A year after Viola Davis broke barriers by becoming the first black woman to win a Best Actress Emmy, the Academy continued to take small steps towards rewarding bold choices in casting and performances, even as host Jimmy Kimmel repeatedly poked fun at what a buzzword "diversity" has become in television. ("Here in Hollywood, the only thing we value more than diversity is congratulating ourselves on how much we value diversity," he noted in his opening monologue.)
Though Davis didn't repeat her win (Outstanding Drama Actress went to Orphan Black's long-overlooked lead, Tatiana Maslany), there were plenty of other victories that represented marginalized stories and/or characters that are seldom seen on television.
Among those was Jeffrey Tambor, who won his second straight Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Emmy for his portrayal of Maura Pfefferman, an older trans woman, on Amazon's Transparent. For the second year in a row, Tambor used his speech to plead for transgender equality.
"To people out there, you producers and you network owners and you agents and you creative sparks, please give transgender talent a chance," he said. "Give them auditions. Give them their story. Do that."
Presenter Laverne Cox referenced Tambor's speech later in the program, noting that she would not be on the Emmys stage if Orange Is the New Blackcreator Jenji Kohan had not taken a chance on a trans actress.
Tambor's win was one of two for Transparent, whose creator Jill Soloway also netted a Comedy Directing award for the Season 2 episode "Man on the Land." In her speech, Soloway also reflected on telling the stories of traditionally marginalized people.
"Being a director ... I get to just make my dreams come true," Soloway said. "It's a privilege, and it also creates privilege. When you take women, people of color, trans people, queer people, and you put them at the center of the story, the subjects instead of the objects, you change the world, we found out. ... This TV show allows me to take my dreams about unlikable Jewish people, queer folk, trans folk, and make them the heroes. Thank you for the trans community for your lived lives. You need to stop violence against transgender women and topple the patriarchy."
Soloway was one of several openly LGBT women to take home gold on Sunday. Kate McKinnon, the first out lesbian in theSaturday Night Live cast, won the sketch show's first award in a major acting category; while Sarah Paulson was awarded Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie for her stunning portrayal of Marcia Clark (whom she brought as her date) in FX's The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. In her acceptance speech, Paulson apologized to Clark for the vitriol she had to endure during the O.J. Simpson trial in the mid-1990s.
"The more I learned about the real Marcia Clark - not the two-dimensional cardboard cutout that I saw on the news, but the complicated, whip-smart, giant-hearted, mother of two who woke up every day, put both feet on the floor, and dedicated herself to righting an unconscionable wrong, the loss of two innocents, Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown — the more I had to recognize that I, along with the rest of the world, had been superficial and careless in my judgment," Paulson said. "And I am glad to be able to stand here today in front of everyone and tell you I'm sorry."
And gender and gender identity weren't the only platforms on display at the Emmys. Master of None's Alan Yang, accepting the award for Comedy Writing for the episode "Parents," lamented the disproportionate lack of Asians in film and television. "There's 17 million Asian Americans in this country, and there are 17 million Italian Americans. They have The Godfather, Goodfellas, Rocky, The Sopranos. We got Long Duk Dong. So we got a long way to go, but I know we can get there. I believe in us. It's just going to take a lot of hard work. Asian parents out there, if you could do me a favor. If just a couple of you get your kids cameras instead of violins, it will be all good."
And finally, surprise winner Rami Malek (who is of Egyptian descent) became the first actor of color to win the Lead Drama Actor prize in 18 years, for his portrayal of computer hacker Elliot Alderson on Mr. Robot, a character who struggles with mental illness.
"I play a young man who is, I think, like so many of us, profoundly alienated," Malek said in his speech. "And the unfortunate thing is I'm not sure how many of us would want to hang out with a guy like Elliot. But I want to honor the Elliots, right? Because there's a little bit of Elliot in all of us, isn't there?"
At least for the winners at the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards, the answer was, "yes."