Accepting her second consecutive Emmy Award for direction, “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway spoke Sunday night of the transformative power of inclusive storytelling.
"When you take people of color, women, trans people, queer people, as the subjects of stories, you change the world,” she said before triumphantly hoisting her Emmy into the air and exclaiming, “Topple the patriarchy!”
It was a fitting moment on a night that celebrated shows about race and gender identity and that honored artists who reflected the diversity of the American population. If the patriarchy wasn’t exactly collapsing on Sunday night, it certainly looked a little shaky.
Soloway was one of two women awarded for their directing. The other was Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier, who helmed all six episodes of AMC’s sumptuous spy thriller “The Night Manager.”
It’s the second year in a row in which two female directors were victorious in the same categories at the Emmys. In 2015, Soloway won for “Transparent,” while Lisa Cholodenko — like Bier, a feature filmmaker who migrated to TV — was honored for her work on the HBO miniseries “Olive Kitteridge.” By contrast, only a single woman, Kathryn Bigelow, has ever won an Academy Award for directing (“The Hurt Locker” in 2010).
In a show of the enormous strides made by the transgender movement in just a few years, Soloway’s lead actor, Jeffrey Tambor, made news by calling for an end to the casting of cisgender, or non-transgender, actors like himself in transgender roles.
“Please give transgender talent a chance. Give them auditions. Give them their story,” said Tambor, whose portrayal of a Maura Pfefferman, a transgender woman who comes out later in life, has won widespread acclaim but has also sparked criticism from some trans activists. “I would be happy if I were the last cisgender male to play a transgender female.”
The declaration was noteworthy, given the growing controversy over the casting of cisgender actors — including, most recently, Matt Bomer — in transgender roles. Tambor’s plea was echoed later in the evening by Laverne Cox, the first openly transgender actress to receive an Emmy nomination.
Several other speeches drove home the importance of representation in pop culture. Surprise winner Tatiana Maslany, who plays enough different characters on “Orphan Black” to employ a dozen or so actresses, said she was “so lucky to be on a show that puts women at the center.”
Another surprise winner, Kate McKinnon, became the first “SNL” cast member to win an Emmy in the supporting actor or actress category and also happens to be the first openly lesbian cast member on the show. In her tearful, funny acceptance speech, McKinnon twice thanked Hillary Clinton, whom she impersonates on the show.
One of the night’s most cathartic moments came courtesy of McKinnon’s “SNL” castmate (and Olympics superfan) Leslie Jones, who has been subjected to racist and sexist harassment online following her appearance in the all-female “Ghostbusters” remake. She appeared along with some accountants from Ernst & Young and joked that rather thank keeping the Emmy winners a secret, they should be protecting her Twitter account.
She not only enlivened this customary but typically boring part of the telecast but also found a platform to fire back at Internet trolls.
“Y’all over here using your skills to protect best voiceover in a French sitcom. Meanwhile, I’m butt-naked on CNN. I just wanted to feel beautiful, y’all. Can a sister feel beautiful?” she asked, prompting a chorus of approval from the audience at Microsoft Theater.
Similarly, Sarah Paulson’s all but inevitable victory for lead actress in a limited series or movie became a moment of redemption for the once-vilified Marcia Clark in FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” Paulson’s highly sympathetic portrayal reimagined Clark not as “the cardboard cutout” depicted in the news, the actress said in her acceptance speech, but as a “complicated, whip-smart, giant-hearted mother of two” committed to righting a terrible injustice.
Paulson, who brought Clark as her guest to the Emmys, ended her speech with an apology to the former prosecutor for Paulson’s “superficial” judgment and the brutally sexist criticism Clark endured during the height of the Simpson trial.
Still, the TV academy should probably refrain from patting itself on the back just yet.
All of the writing awards handed out on Sunday went to men, though, in an ironic twist, D.V. DeVincentis won for writing “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” the episode of “The People v. O.J. Simpson” that showed how Clark’s appearance and personal life were subject to intense scrutiny.
Although Samantha Bee made a big impression with the debut of her topical series “Full Frontal,” the variety talk show category remained an all-white boys’ club. As host (and losing nominee) Kimmel pointed out, that’s sort of the opposite of “variety."
Follow me @MeredithBlake