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Black actors make Emmys history with the most wins in a single year

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
“Watchmen” star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II won the 2020 Emmy for supporting actor in a limited series or movie.
( ABC / Walt Disney Television)

The 72nd Emmy Awards were defined by Black excellence.

In addition to historic individual victories for “Watchmen” actress Regina King and “Euphoria” star Zendaya, several of 2020’s Black winners collectively broke the record for the most acting Emmys won in major categories by Black performers in a single year.

Sunday night’s champions included Uzo Aduba, who won supporting actress in a limited series for her portrayal of trailblazing politician Shirley Chisholm in “Mrs. America”; Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who won supporting actor in a limited series for his performance as the omniscient Doctor Manhattan in “Watchmen”; Eddie Murphy, who won guest actor in a comedy series for hosting “Saturday Night Live”; and Maya Rudolph, who won guest actress in a comedy series for portraying vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris on “Saturday Night Live.”

“‘Watchmen’ was a story about trauma,” Adbul-Mateen said Sunday in a powerful speech. “It was a story about the lasting scars of ... white domestic terrorism.... It was a story about police corruption and brutality. But in the midst of it all, it was also a story about a god who came down to earth to reciprocate to a Black woman all the love that she deserved.

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“He’d offer her sacrifices, support, passion, potential. And he did all that in the body of a Black man, and I’m so proud that I was able to walk into those shoes. So I dedicate this award to all the Black women in my life — the people who believed in me first ... this one is for you. Thank you.”

Read the powerful full acceptance speech from “Watchmen” star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who won the Emmy for supporting actor in a limited series.

At 24, Zendaya became the youngest performer ever to win lead actress in a drama series for her harrowing turn as Rue in “Euphoria.” And King tied screen icon Alfre Woodard for the most Emmys won by a Black performer with her lead actress in a limited series victory for her performance as Angela Abar in “Watchmen.”

“There is hope in the young people out there,” Zendaya said while accepting her award. “And I just want to say to all my peers out there doing the work in the streets — I see you. I admire you. I thank you, and yeah, thank you so, so much. This is — whoa.”

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Zendaya spoke to the press after her Emmy win for “Euphoria.” She’s the youngest ever winner for lead drama actress.

At last week’s Creative Arts Emmy Awards, Rudolph won a second Emmy for her voiceover work in Netflix’s “Big Mouth,” while RuPaul triumphed once again as reality host of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

And even more history was made when Ron Cephas Jones and Jasmine Cephas Jones became the first-ever father-daughter Emmy winners for their respective turns in NBC’s “This Is Us” and Quibi’s "#FreeRayshawn” — which also scored a win for actor Laurence Fishburne.

Regina King, who won the 2020 Emmy Award for lead actress in a limited series for her performance in HBO’s “Watchmen,” now has four acting Emmys.

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Together, King, Zendaya, Aduba, Abdul-Mateen, Murphy, Rudolph and Ron Cephas Jones’ seven victories top the previous record of six for the most Emmys won by Black performers in the coveted drama, comedy and limited series brackets.

“This is so freakin’ weird,” King said in her speech. “I truly love being a thespian ... [‘Watchmen’ creator] Damon Lindelof, I love you, brother.... Thank you for choosing all of us to join this journey as you stepped outside of your comfort zone and led us on a journey where we could bring art to truth, to power.”

Times staff writers Julissa James and Diego Medrano contributed to this report.

At Sunday’s Emmys, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Breonna Taylor were remembered. Winners encouraged viewers to vote. And essential workers grounded the show.

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