President Donald Trump once complained that the Emmys were rigged. When it came to mentions of him on Sunday night’s broadcast, the ceremony was restrained.
Absent a host, there was no opening monologue for a host to make sharp quips or smart takes aimed at the occupant of the Oval Office. Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Jimmy Kimmel, Samantha Bee appeared on stage without mentioning his name or commenting on the chaos or craziness.
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There was no reference to a whistleblower or buying Greenland, nor were there Robert De Niro-like outbursts.
Yet plenty was said about the policies that have come out of the White House — and the cultural divisions that have been fomented over the past three years.
Jesse Armstrong, winning for HBO’s Succession, started to comment on the number of British winners of the evening and started to say that the U.S. should “rethink its immigration policies.” But he was bleeped for what he said next.
RuPaul, winning for RuPaul’s Drag Race, kept his politics to a simply plea for people to register to vote.
The seriousness of some of the political statements made throughout the evening were a bit incongruous to the tone that Fox tried to set for the evening. Broadcasting the ceremony for the first time as part of Rupert Murdoch’s pared down empire, the network tried to go for irreverence, most prominently by placing Thomas Lennon as an announcer, delivering doses of snark as winners walked to the stage.
Yet without a host to make the transitions, it seemed just a bit incongruous, given the subject matter of some of the night’s winners and the emotion in some of the speeches.
As Chernobyl won in the limited series category, Lennon quipped as the winners were walking to the stage, “Chernobyl, the little nuclear disaster that could.”
In his speech, Chernobyl creator Craig Mazin talked of his project’s loftier aims, not so subtly tying it to the war on facts of the current moment.
“I hope in some small way our show has helped remind people of the value of the truth,” he said.
There also was the standing ovation given to the five men wrongly accused in the Central Park Five case, the basis for the Netflix miniseries When They See Us. “Most importantly, this is for the men we know as the Exonerated Five,” said Jharrel Jerome, who won for supporting actor in the project. He did not mention Trump’s connection — as he continued to insist that the men were guilty long after they were found innocent.
Other moments that stood out: Patricia Arquette, winner for Hulu’s The Act, paying tribute to her sister, Alexis, while calling for an end to bias and persecution of transgender people. Or Alex Borstein, winning for The Fabulous Mrs. Maisel, telling the story of her grandmother, who survived the Holocaust by stepping out of a line where people were waiting to be shot. Borstein then urged, “Step out of line, ladies!”
Women’s equality was a common theme throughout the evening, including an issue that once was rarely if ever raised on an award show: pay equity.
Michelle Williams, winning for Fosse/Verdon, said, “I see this as an acknowledgement of what is possible when a woman is trusted to discern her own needs, feels safe enough to voice them and respected enough that they’ll be heard.”
She credited FX for paying her the same as her male counterpart, but said that it remains a problem, particularly for women of color, who still are far behind the salaries of men doing the same work.
It’s now a given that actors will use their acceptance speech time to make a political statement or social message, just as it’s also a given that they will be tagged as too high-minded or even smug for an evening of entertainment. But occasionally, their messaging works, as it did when Arquette called for women’s pay equity in accepting an Oscar in 2015. It helped give momentum to a California law that passed later that year.
That’s why some nominees used the attention of the ceremony as a creative means of demonstration. As Arquette called for an end to transgender bias, Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox held up a rainbow-colored clutch bag that listed the date Oct. 8, when the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case involving Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and whether it applies to LGBT discrimination. The Trump administration filed a brief asking that the court rule that Title VII does not protect transgender people from workplace discrimination.
She told E! News beforehand, “A lot of people aren’t talking about this case and it has implications for the LGBTQ community, but it has implications for women and anyone who doesn’t conform to someone else’s idea of like how you should be a man or a woman or both or neither.”