A Night for the History Books: Groundbreaking Moments from the 2019 Emmys

Alexa W., Journalist

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Sun 20 October 2019

(YAWP)– Transformative. Groundbreaking.  Inspirational.  These words and more describe a historical night in the entertainment industry—the Emmys.  Award shows like these allow celebrities to use their voices to shed light on issues plaguing the world.  Furthermore, they provide a platform for these celebrities to advocate to the people, as their voices hold a certain power over those who follow them.  The 2019 Emmys not only served as a night to commend and honor the casts and crew of television, but to also convey a variety of messages to its watchers to inspire and educate them.

The Emmy Winners of the night included a diverse array of talented people within the industry, from Phoebe Waller Bridge to Jharrel Jerome.  However, among these well-deserved wins is one whose win was truly one for the history books.  A talented actor, fashion icon, and representative of the LGBTQ+ community are just some of the words to describe this person, however, most people know him as Billy Porter.  Porter is a Broadway performer, singer, and actor who has truly come to emerge as an icon in the entertainment industry.  From his captivating runway looks to his powerful performances on the stage and screen, Billy Porter is truly on the rise.  Porter received praise for his role on the tv series “Pose,” which eventually garnered him a 2019 Primetime Emmy Nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.  Not only did Porter receive this nomination, but he also won the Emmy and made history as the first openly gay black man to win the award for his category.[1]  Not only was his win memorable, but so was his speech in which he quoted James Baldwin who wrote in his 1960 essay “They Can’t Turn Back,” that “it took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself, and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as if I had a right to be here.”  Porter’s Emmy win is important for audiences today because it provides the much-needed representation and diversity within the TV and film industry.  Not only is this win pushing America forward to being more inclusive, but it also serves as a stark reminder that this is a first and there lies ahead a long path to tread for the entertainment history.  With this win being the first, it truly poses the question of why did it take so long? and how far have we really come?  While these questions continue to plague the population, it still does not take away from the historic magnitude of this win and what it means to Billy Porter.

Among the many winners of the night, another standout emerged in the win of Michelle Williams for Lead Actress in a Limited Series for her portrayal of Broadway actor and dancer Gwen Verdon in the limited series “Fosse/Verdon.” As she accepted the coveted award, Williams captivated the audience with a truly inspiring and informational speech.  The speech encompassed the need for equal pay among the sexes, something Michelle did not receive in one of her previous films titled “All the Money in the World.”  In her speech, Williams proclaimed that “the next time a woman — and especially a woman of color, because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white male counterparts — tells you what she needs in order to do her job, listen to her, believe her, because one day, she might stand in front of you and say thank you for allowing her to succeed because of her workplace environment and not in spite of it.”[2]  Williams garnered a standing ovation from the audience as well as praise from many watching and listening to the inspirational message from their screens.  Michelle Williams possessed the courage and the will to use her voice to bring awareness to issues plaguing everyday life.  Her speech serves as a reminder of the wage gap that occurs not only in the entertainment industry but also in workplaces everywhere across the globe.  For this, Williams’ speech will definitely go down as one of the most remarkable and inspiring speeches in Emmy history.

Among the other winners of the night, Patricia Arquette’s win for “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie” stood out due to her powerful speech.  As she began her speech, Arquette expressed her sadness over Alexis Arquette, “a transgender actress and advocate who died in 2016 after suffering cardiac arrest.”[3]  She went on to express her sadness, as well as her support for Transgender rights and equality.  “I’m in mourning every day of my life, Alexis, and I will be for the rest of my life for you until we change the world so that trans people are not persecuted,” a visibly emotional Arquette said as she accepted the award. “And give them jobs. They are human beings.”  Arquette’s call for Trans equality evoked praise from the audience as well as many of those watching from the comfort of their homes.  Her speech truly served as a reminder that America has a long way to go in assuring equality for all people and that she and countless others will not stop fighting until such equality is guaranteed.

The 2019 Emmy’s is truly one for the history books.  Despite its upsets, lack of a host, and a wide array of awkward moments, the 2019 Emmy’s served an important purpose.  The great moments of the night will definitely stand the test of time with history-making winners and inspirational speeches.  Hopefully, this trend will continue throughout the course of the award season.

[1] Alissa Wilkinson, “Pose’s Billy Porter makes LGBTQ history with his Emmy Win,” Vox. September 22, 2019, https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/9/22/20879262/emmys-2019-billy-porter-win-speech-pose. Accessed October 15, 2019).


[2] Bellware, Kim, “Michelle Williams’ Emmy speech on pay equity and power is an instant classic,” The Washington Post, September 23, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/arts-entertainment/2019/09/23/give-michelle-williams-raise-her-emmy-speech-pay-equity-power-is-an-instant-classic/.

[3] Izade, Elahe, “’Trans people are still being persdecuted’: The personal story behind Patricia Arquette’s moving Emmys Speech,” The Washington Post, September 23, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/arts-entertainment/2019/09/23/story-behind-patricia-arquettes-moving-emmys-speech-calling-transgender-rights/.