Though the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday celebrated television’s best moments, the ceremony gave near equal time to celebrating its own newfound diversity — and joking about the Oscars’ lack of it.
“This year’s nominees are the most diverse ever,” host Jimmy Kimmel said in his opening monologue of a field that included 18 nominees of color for acting awards and several women in directing categories.
“And here in Hollywood, the only thing that we value more than diversity is congratulating ourselves on how much we value diversity. I’ll tell you, the Emmys are so diverse this year, the Oscars are now telling people we’re one of their closest friends.”
The night’s big winners reflected television’s move toward a more realistic and representative mix of shows, and away from the industry’s very male, very white traditions. Top winners included “Mr. Robot’s” Rami Malek for lead actor in a drama, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story’s” Courtney B. Vance for lead actor in a limited series or movie and “The Night Manager’s” Susanne Bier for directing a limited series, movie or dramatic special.
Where the Oscars almost felt uncomfortable joking about race — there were no acting nominees of color, thus the #OscarsSoWhite movement — during its telecast this year, the Emmys reveled in it — and also patted itself on the back.
“We need to appreciate how far we’ve come,” said Kimmel. “In fact, if you are a person of color in our audience tonight — especially if you’re a nominee — please find a white person right now. Go ahead, it shouldn’t be hard. I see a bunch of them right here. Just take a moment to reach out and say thanks for your bravery. There ya go, make a rainbow connection.” In the audience, Aziz Ansari (Netflix’s “Master of None”) hugged Ty Burrell (ABC’s “Modern Family”).
Television as a whole has been quicker than film to react to the discussion about race and gender. Shows such as ABC’s “black-ish” (nominated three times, but won nothing) tackled issues of race, class and police shootings, while HBO’s satirical “Veep” (comedy series winner) lampooned American politics with a female president at the helm.
Ansari riffed off the charged anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim campaign rhetoric while presenting an award mid-evening: “I want everyone to know that after careful consideration, I’ve decided I’m going with Trump, which is why I’m also recommending we get rid of all Muslim and Hispanic nominees from the ceremony immediately. Wow, this would be so much easier if we were at the Oscars.” He continued: “America Ferrara, nice try changing your name to America, you’re not fooling anybody. You’re out!”
Early in the show, Ansari and his “Master of None” show runner Alan Yang won for writing on a comedy series with an episode about the expectations and sacrifices of immigrant parents.
“There’s 17 million Asian Americans in this country, and 17 million Italian Americans,” said Yang. “They have ‘The Godfather,’ ‘Goodfellas,’ ‘Rocky,’ ‘Sopranos.’ We’ve got Long Duk Dong. I know we can get there…. Asian parents out there, at least a few of you get your kids cameras instead of violins.”
Kimmel then joked, “Now there’s almost too much diversity in this show” — a telecast that was, at that point, mere minutes old.
Transgender moments in TV, and LGBT rights, also had their moments onstage Sunday. “Transparent’s” Jeffrey Tambor plays a trans women in the Amazon series, but he said he’d gladly give up his place for a transgender actor.
“To you producers and network owners and agents, please give transgender talents a chance,” he said. “Give them auditions. Give them their stories… I would not be unhappy if I were the last cisgender male to play a transgender female on television.”
The show’s creator, Jill Soloway, won for directing a comedy series. She used the moment to advocate for more inclusion of LGBT characters and women in television productions.
“I’ve always wanted to be part of a movement,” she said. “This TV show allows me to take my dreams about unlikable Jewish people, queer folk, trans folk, and make them heroes.” She then proclaimed, “Stop violence against transgender women and topple the patriarchy!”
She was one of two female directors to win Emmys on Sunday (Susanne Bier also won for “The Night Manager”).
Sarah Paulson won for lead actress in a limited series drama. She played Marcia Clark in FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” a series that garnered 22 nominations and nine wins. It most notably highlighted the gender discrimination Clark underwent when prosecuting Simpson in the double murder trial.
Paulson attended with the real life Marcia Clark, and apologized from the stage for viewing Clark through a warped lens at the trial two decades ago. “I, along with the rest of the world, had been superficial in my judgment, and I’m glad that I’m able to stand here in front of everyone today and say, ‘I’m sorry.’ “
This year’s Emmys were much more than just glamour, statues and self-congratulations. The impact of this year’s national election, with all its divisiveness and acrimony, received more than its share of attention.
Host Jimmy Kimmel got the political ball roll jokingly chastised reality show producer Mark Burnett, contending that Burnett was responsible for the creation of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump due to Trump’s role on NBC’s “The Apprentice,” which Burnett created.
“Thanks to Mark Burnett, we don’t have to watch reality shows anymore — we’re living one,” Kimmel said. “If it wasn’t for television, would Donald Trump be running for president?”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, however, was more pointed after winning for lead actress in a comedy for the HBO series “Veep.”
“I think that ‘Veep’ has torn down the wall between comedy and politics,” said a straight-faced Louis-Dreyfus. “Our show started out as a political satire, but it now feels more like a sobering documentary.”
She then quipped, “So I certainly do promise to rebuild that wall and make Mexico pay for it.”