Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Emmy Speech Was A Tribute To The People Who Loved Him First: Black Women

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images.

Last night, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II won his very first major industry award, nabbing the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie thanks to his stellar acting in HBO’s Watchmen. He may have been surprised by the win, but the Yahya Hive was not — Black women have peeped his star quality from the very beginning.

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Not to be annoying, but I’ve literally loved Abdul-Mateen since the first time I laid eyes on him. I vividly remember seeing all six feet, three inches of him peacock across the screen in Netflix’s now-defunct hip hop musical The Get Down, just knowing that he was fine. As Cadillac, the second main antagonist of the Baz Luhrmann plot, the actor stole almost every scene he appeared in. Cocky, brash, and chaotic, Abdul-Mateen II’s Disco Prince literally sparkled on camera. And not simply because he was fine; I could tell almost immediately that he was bursting with star quality. 

The Get Down opened up door after door for the newbie actor, setting him on a path that many of his peers could only dream of. He played an acrobat in the Golden Globe-nominated musical The Greatest Showman (2017), a bumbling police officer in Baywatch (2017), and Aquaman's vengeful nemesis in the eponymous DC Extended Universe film. Abdul-Mateen II even made a cameo in Jordan Peele's Us, which was definitely the precursor to his lead role in Nia DaCosta's 2021 Candyman remake.

By 2019, Abdul Mateen II was on the verge of being a household name, but his role in the HBO limited series Watchmen really solidified his star power. In the superhero drama, he starred as Calvin Abar, the sensitive and supportive husband of protagonist Angela Abar (Emmy winner Regina "Thee Thespian" King). While Angela fought off the bad guys at work, Calvin stayed home and took care of their three adopted kids, but his days of being Mr. Mom ended with the scream-worthy revelation that he was Doctor Manhattan.

As the good doctor, Abdul-Mateen II took on a startlingly different quality. In comparison to Calvin's bright smile and come-hither energy — if you know, you know — Doctor Manhattan was frustratingly stoic, assessing the world through a blasé, logic-based perspective. The performances were like night and day, emphasizing Abdul-Mateen II's ability to offer up nuanced performances no matter what he stars in.

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The Television Academy recognized that talent at the 2020 Emmy Awards, awarding Abdul-Mateen II with the coveted industry award in a stacked category. Totally shocked by the win, he proceeded to give one of the most moving speeches of the night. Abdul-Mateen II thanked his family and his siblings, shouted out his hometowns of Oakland and New Orleans, and made sure to honor his TV wife and scene partner King for bringing out the best in him. Then, he made me cry by thanking the people who made him who he is today: Black women.

"[Watchmen] was also a story about a god who came down to earth to reciprocate to a Black woman all the love that she deserved," said Abdul-Mateen II in his acceptance speech. "He'd offer her sacrifice and support, passion [and] protection. And he did all that in the body of a Black man. 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," he continued, his smile growing as he spoke. "The people who believed in me first — I call you my early investors. I love you. I appreciate you. And this one is for you. Thank you."

Am I in his life? Technically, no — although I'm married to him in my head, that man doesn't know me from Adam. But Abdul-Mateen II knows his fanbase very, very well. Anyone with sense is a fan of his work, but the actor is fully aware that the majority of Yahya Hive is composed of Black women thirsting after him, tuning into his work, and cheering him on every single step of the way.

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We watched The Get Down. We broke Twitter tweeting about his "Striking Vipers" episode of Black Mirror. We're all up and down his Instagram comments and DMs with thirst. We will be pulling up, masks and all, to our local theaters to watch Candyman even if it scares us half to death. And I don't think I have to tell you that we will be down for whatever the hell he's doing in the fourth Matrix film. We're here for our baby, and he knows where his loyalties lie.

"It's important to listen to Black women because they got the answers," Abdul-Mateen II said earlier this year at the 51st NAACP Image Awards, his sentiments echoed by fellow king Winston Duke. "Listen to them, and you won't go wrong. They've never steered me wrong in my life, and they never will."

I'm usually against the "listen to Black women" thing because it feels a lot like unpaid labor — Black girl magic can't save the world from itself — but Abdul-Mateen II paying tribute to the people who have been with him since the beginning just underscores how perfect he is. Congratulations to that man, but also congratulations to us. We won, ladies.

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