Why The Emmys Were Such A Triumph For Women

Photo: Lester Cohen/WireImage.
As the 2017 Emmy Awards credits rolled, one fact was clear: Big Little Lies was the major success of the night, taking home five statues over the course of the evening. But Hulu’s Handmaid’s Tale had an equally massive haul, with its own five award wins during the telecast. Both of these series dominated their categories — limited series and drama, respectively — with NBC’s Saturday Night Live following behind with four wins within the comedy and variety sketch show races. No other series even came close to these major triumphs, leading the 2017 Emmys to make the strongest case in years that women are the most dominant force in television.
The strength of women in Big Little Lies and Handmaid’s Tale is obvious. Big Little Lies (spoiler alert) is an HBO limited series about five very different women eventually killing a walking, talking, broken-penis-having avatar for the patriarchy. It was produced by women and inspired by a novel written by a woman, Australian author Liane Moriarty. As Witherspoon said, these ladies were the "heroes of their own stories".
Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale was also based on the work of a woman, iconic writer Margaret Atwood. It deals with the violence and misogyny women confront every day, and the darkest places that sexism can take us (read: state-sponsored kidnapping and rape). Lies gave us Kidman, Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern and Zoe Kravitz. Handmaid’s featured Elisabeth Moss, Yvonne Strahovski, Samira Wiley, Alexis Bledel, Ann Dowd and Madeline Brewer. Out of these 11 powerful women, eight were nominated for acting Emmy awards, and five won.
But even success story Saturday Night Live was pushed to its win thanks to how it dealt with women’s stories. Outstanding Supporting Actress winner Kate McKinnon captured the intensity and drive of Hillary Clinton, while also channelling her "grace", as the actress put it during her acceptance speech. McKinnon’s post-election rendition of "Hallelujah" while in her full-Clinton regalia of a white pantsuit and bobbed blonde wig, was one of the most cathartic moments of 2016 TV. Fellow Emmy-winner Alec Baldwin may not be a woman, but the Donald Trump impersonator did likely win his award for how he continuously dealt with his candidate-turned-president inspiration's obvious, unapologetic misogyny and violence towards women. Baldwin’s impression consistently harkened back to how dangerous President 45 — who has cavalierly supported sexual assault and sexualised his own daughter multiple times — is for women.
While the 2017 Emmys acting categories, and the multiple high-profile movie stars who won them, are the most obvious example of women’s success this year, the picture becomes even more clear when you look behind the camera. Kidman and Witherspoon took home Emmys for Big Little Lies’ Outstanding Limited Series win because they were both executive producers on the project — not just actresses. This allowed the Hollywood powerhouses to push their vision during production, and make sure Lies dealt seriously with the domestic abuse at the heart of the show’s literary inspiration. "It is a complicated, insidious disease," Kidman said during her acting acceptance speech. "It 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." The only reason Lies could "shine a light" on the issue is because of who was making it in the first place.
Thanks to their producing Emmy-winning series, women are also getting more fulfilling, multidimensional roles. "I’ve been acting since I was 11 years old and I think I’ve worked with maybe 12 women," Laura Dern "joked" during her own acceptance speech. "Thank you to Nicole and Reese’s mums for not only giving us extraordinary women, but really well-read women. Because that’s how I’m getting parts. I share this with my tribe of four [other] ladies. I feel very proud to be part of reflecting fierce women and mothers finding their voice." Kidman similarly noted she and close friend Witherspoon created an “opportunity” like Big Little Lies out of "frustration" over not being offered great roles. Yes, Oscar-winning women like Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon weren't even being offered exciting, worthy roles. That's a problem that they then sought to course-correct on their own.
Thankfully, mega-watt stars like Kidman and Witherspoon weren’t the only behind-the-scenes women to take home gold at the Emmys. Three-time Handmaid’s Tale helmer Reed Morano won Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series, beating out two other women and five men for the gong. It was the first time since 1995 — you know, 22 years ago — a woman had won the award. It was also the first time in Emmys history, save for 2010, that more than two women were even nominated for the category, which has been around since 1955. Morano’s acceptance speech pointed towards where we hope more series made by women will be headed: utter fearlessness. While accepting her award, the director said, "Thank you... Lizzy [Moss], and [creator Bruce Miller and producer Warren Littlefield] for letting me go wild and going wild with me."
Master Of None breakout star Lena Waithe is another one of those women who was allowed to put her entire self into her project and was greatly, and historically, rewarded for it. Waithe netted the Outstanding Writing For A Comedy Series for Master of None season 2 episode "Thanksgiving", which the actress co-wrote with Aziz Ansari. She is the first black woman to ever do so. The semi-autobiographical "Thanksgiving" follows Waithe’s character through multiple iterations of the titular holiday over the years, tracking the major milestones in her life as an LGBTQIA black woman. The instalment proves not all women’s stories are the same, so we need as many women making as much content as possible for projects to legitimately connect with viewers. Not only will such a strategy give networks a feel-good moment; they’ll also be rewarded with critical acclaim and more statues to add to their post-Emmys press releases. As television gets more and more cramped — there were 455 scripted series on television in 2016 alone — specific, fresh, and honest storytelling is the only way a series can stand out from the increasingly packed crowd. Women are clearly the ones who can fill this kind of order.
So, everyone, please listen to Nicole Kidman, who closed one of her many Emmys acceptance speeches by asking, "Now, more great roles for women, please." Get to it, Hollywood — and we mean behind the camera, too.
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