If you did a shot every time a critic or commentator uttered the words “it’s an important year for women in television” yesterday, you’d be on the floor, under your desk and not at all capable of reading this article.
But despite its strong potential as a drinking game, there’s also a lot of relevance and truth in this overused statement.
The shows honored at this year’s Emmy Awards ceremony depicted and celebrated women’s stories and issues in a way that has never been done before. In fact, the list of nominated shows and performers read like a page pulled straight out of a film feminist’s dream journal.
There was Big Little Lies, an exquisitely shot drama that featured a range of strong female performances who all explored a range of topics from domestic abuse to sexual violence, parenthood, infidelity and female friendships.
Feud boasted an equally strong femalecentric cast, led by Hollywood legends Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon, whose portrayals of Hollywood icons Joan Crawford and Bette Davis dove deep into ageism and sexism in the workplace and in pop-culture.
Listen to Laura Brodnik and Clare Stephens explain why the Emmy speeches will all sound a little bit different this year on The Binge.
Meanwhile, Veep was celebrated in the comedy category, with the female-led show scoring a historic win for leading lady Julia Louis-Dreyfus while also taking out the prize for Outstanding Comedy Series, proving once and for all with a slew of wins that the whole “women behaving badly” comedy troupe is not an anomaly or flash in the pan. It’s here to stay.
And of course there was the big winner of the night, and one of the most compelling TV shows of the year, The Handmaid’s Tale. A show so committed to its quest to depict a world where the very worst things imaginable to women all come true, that it shook audiences to their core while also giving rich acting material to its female cast. So much so that the award categories were littered with actresses who had donned those iconic red hoods.
If you needed more proof that this year’s Emmys were all about the power of women, the justification was not just in the nominations and winners lists, but in the speeches as well.
From an outsiders perspective, it appeared that every actress who was fortunate enough to have her name printed on a nomination ballot was part of an unspoken, yet important pact to make their acceptance speeches count.
It’s a trend that started earlier in the week, when Alexis Bledel and Melissa McCarthy took to the stage at the Creative Emmy Awards to accept their Guest Actress gongs for their politically charged roles in The Handmaid’s Tale and Saturday Night Live, and delivered socially conscious speeches and post-ceremony interviews.
On the main stage, the speech stakes were equally as high. First time winner Nicole Kidman used her time on stage, after winning Best Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie for her role as Celeste in Big Little Lies, to highlight the plight of women suffering from domestic violence.
“We shone a light on domestic abuse. It is a complicated insidious disease that exists far more than we allow ourselves to know. It is filled with shame and secrecy and by you acknowledging me with this award, it shines a light on it even more,” she said.
Also raising the roof with a speech on female empowerment and the gender imbalance in Hollywood was fellow Big Little Lies star and winner in the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie category, Laura Dern.
"I've been acting since I was 11 years old," she said on stage. "And I think I've worked with maybe twelve women so I just want to thank the television academy for honoring our show and working with this incredible tribe of fierce women."
Even Elizabeth Moss, who picked up the statue for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, thanks to her extraordinary role as Offred in The Handmaid's Tale, gave an acceptance speech that could double as a battle cry, thanking an important woman in her life, her mother, for teaching her that "you can be kind and a f*cking badass".
So amidst all these empowering speeches, groundbreaking female protagonists and female-centered shows, did the Emmy Awards deliver on their promise to be a night all about women?
The answer, thankfully, is yes. But not because of the actresses who took to the stage to accept their awards. In this case, the true triumphant of the night was the celebration of what women had done behind the camera, not just in front of it.
The acting categories, while filled with deserving winners, are not always the best indication of how women are faring in the immense Hollywood gender equality gap. While the projects they are working on can and are becoming more diverse, more profitable and higher profile, these are awards sections set aside entirely for one gender.
The categories to look at when it comes to deciding which gender dominated TV's night of nights are the ones that are awarded to those who create the projects from top to bottom. The writers, directors and producers. Traditionally, these are the arenas in which female creatives often fail to get a foot in the door, but yesterday, it felt like that legacy had begun to shift.
Take the historic win for Master of None‘s Lena Waithe, who received a well-deserved and thunderous standing ovation when she took to the stage to become the first-ever black woman to win an award for Writing in a Comedy Series. During her glorious acceptance speech Waithe also thanked her LGBTQIA family and fans.
“I see each and every one of you,” she said. “The things that make us different, those are our superheroes… every day when you walk out the door, put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world. Because the world wouldn’t be as beautiful as it is without you in it.”
Over in the director's category, the sound of glass shattering could also be heard as Reed Morano accepted her Emmy for best Director in a Drama Series for The Handmaid’s Tale. Staggeringly, Morano is only the third woman ever to win the category after Karen Arthur for Cagney & Lacey in 1985 and Mimi Leader won for ER in 1995.
Adding to this victory was the fact that in the nominations stage three female directors had made the cut — tied as the most ever — to be nominated in the category.
On another promising note, Big Little Lies, a series that walked away with a swag of big awards, was also produced by a group of women, most notably Australians Nicole Kidman and Bruna Papandrea, who brought the work of fellow Australian, Liane Moriarty to film and critical acclaim on the small screen.
It looks like 2017 truly is the greatest so far for women in television, and now they have the receipts to prove it.
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