Emmys 2021: Michaela Coel & Women Directors Make History But POC Are Snubbed in Acting Categories

The Emmys took one step forward and two steps back during last night’s ceremony. While the 2021 edition saw a Black woman taking home the trophy for Writing – Limited or Anthology Series or Movie for the first time ever and women dominating the top directing categories, the awards were also extremely, undeniably white. Last year, a record number of Black actors won Emmys; this year, exactly zero people of color won in the major acting categories.

In fact, it was two hours into the ceremony before any person of color won a prize. That person was RuPaul Charles, who received the Outstanding Competition Program along with his “RuPaul’s Drag Race” collaborators. With that victory, his 11th, RuPaul became the most-decorated Black artist in Emmy history.

#EmmysSoWhite2021 felt particularly infuriating since, as Deadline puts it, “inclusion showed up strong at the nomination stage with a record 49 non-Anglo nominees recognized in the acting and reality hosting categories, +17% over last year’s diversity record of 42.”

Still, the Emmys weren’t a complete bust. Michaela Coel made history as the first Black woman to win for Writing – Limited or Anthology Series or Movie. Recognized for penning the entirety of “I May Destroy You,” the story of a young woman struggling to move forward after being raped, Coel paid tribute to writers and her show’s real-life counterparts while accepting the award. “I dedicate this story to every single survivor of sexual assault,” she said.

Coel wasn’t the only one who made the history books last night. For the first time, women prevailed in both the Drama and Comedy directing categories. Jessica Hobbs won the Directing for a Drama Series Emmy for helming “War,” the Season 4 finale of Queen Elizabeth II saga “The Crown.” Lucia Aniello received the Directing for a Comedy Series statuette for “There Is No Line,” the first episode of “Hacks,” the HBO Max comedy about a veteran Vegas stand-up who tries to revitalize her act with the help of a millennial writer.

Aniello and her “Hacks” co-creators, Jen Statsky and Paul W. Downs, also took home the Writing for a Comedy Series prize for “There Is No Line.”

Jean Smart won Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for “Hacks” as well. She spoke about her late husband during her acceptance speech, thanking him for prioritizing her dreams ahead of his own. “I would not be here without him, without his kind of putting his career on the back burner so that I could take advantage of all the wonderful opportunities that I’ve had,” Smart emphasized.

Along with “Hacks,” the other big winners included “The Crown,” “Mare of Easttown,” and “The Queen’s Gambit.” “The Crown” received the Emmys for Best Drama Series, Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Olivia Colman), and Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Gillian Anderson), while female chess prodigy story “The Queen’s Gambit” won Best Limited or Anthology Series. Kate Winslet and Julianne Nicholson took home Lead Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie and Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie, respectively, for small-town murder mystery “Mare of Easttown.”

Hannah Waddingham was also among last night’s victors. She received the Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series prize for her turn in Apple TV+ soccer comedy “Ted Lasso.”

As previously announced, Debbie Allen was honored with the Television Academy’s Governors Award during the 2021 Emmys. Following a video montage tracing her decades-spanning work as a dancer, choreographer, actor, director, and philanthropist — and featuring words of love from friends and collaborators — Allen delivered a heartfelt speech about the struggles women face in the industry, the artists and crew members who helped her succeed, and the people she has helped in turn.

“I’m trying not to cry and be equal to the situation because it’s been many years in the making,” she said. “It takes a lot of courage to be the only woman in the room most of the time. A lot of courage and creativity and fight and faith to believe that I could keep going, and I have and I brought a whole lot of people with me.”

Allen also delighted the audience by refusing to cede the mic until she was done saying what she had to say — timers and play-off orchestral music be damned.


The four-time Emmy winner concluded her speech by reminding viewers about Texas’ draconian abortion law and the human rights crises happening in Afghanistan. “Let this moment resonate with women across the world, across this country and across the world — from Texas to Afghanistan,” she declared. Addressing young people, she added, “It is time for you to claim your power, claim your voice, say your song, tell your stories. It will make us a better place. Your turn.”

Head over to Deadline to check out the full list of Emmy winners.

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