Quinta Brunson & Sheryl Lee Ralph Are Emmy Award Winners, Baby!

Photo: Michael Buckner/Variety/Getty Images.
When Quinta Brunson first began working on the pilot for Abbott Elementary, she just knew that she had a hit on her hands — so much so that she vowed to leave the industry if it didn’t take off for some unimaginable reason. Thankfully for us and for the rest of Hollywood, that won’t be happening.  At last night’s 2022 Emmy Awards,  Brunson and her Abbott Elementary co-star Sheryl Lee Ralph were two of the big winners of the night. Their triumphs at the ceremony, historic and emotional, are a reminder of a truth we’ve always known: Black women are the blueprint. 
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Abbott Elementary, which premiered on ABC earlier this year, follows the highs and lows of a cohort of teachers working at an underfunded elementary school in Philadelphia. Brunson stars as Janine Teagues, a second-year educator at Abbott trying to keep her co-workers and students alike focused on the bright side of learning despite their less-than-stellar circumstances. Simultaneously touching and hilarious, the mockumentary series underscores the flaws of the American education system with finesse, using humor to point out the many needs of classrooms across the country.  When Abbott Elementary was nominated for seven different Emmy awards in July, including the uber competitive categories of Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series (Brunson), Outstanding Comedy Series, and Outstanding Writing For A Comedy Series (Brunson), the recognition was more than deserved. 
The ABC series walked away with two of those prestigious awards at Emmys on Monday, September 12. Ralph, who stars as the wise but old school teaching veteran Barbara Howard, edged out competitors to take home the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series — only the second Black woman to win in the category after Jackée Harry’s 1997 win for her role in 227. After decades in the game and numerous important roles (Deena Jones in the original Broadway production of Dreamgirls, Dee Mitchell in Moesha, Florence Watson in Sister Act 2 — need I go on?), the Emmy was a long time coming, and it was well-deserved.
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"I am an endangered species, but I sing no victim song," Ralph sang in a boisterous voice onstage (a verse from jazz singer Diane Reeves' 1993 song called "Endangered Species"). "I am a woman, I am an artist, and I know where my voice belongs!”
The rest of her speech was just as moving, shouting out the support of her family and co-star Brunson for playing a pivotal role in her journey to becoming an Emmy-winner. "To anyone who has ever, ever had a dream and thought your dream wasn't wouldn't couldn't come true, I am here to tell you that this is what believing looks like," Ralph said with a wide smile, the audience on their feet. "This is what striving looks like. And don't you ever, ever give up on you."
As the creator and showrunner of Abbott Elementary, Brunson’s game plan for the show has always included an Emmy win for Ralph. In an interview with Variety following the awards show, the actress revealed that she’d originally wanted to play role of mischievous and unqualified principal Ava Coleman, but Janelle James (who was also nominated in the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series) was cast instead at Brunson’s insistence that the show “needed a queen” to play Barbara, and Ralph was the perfect fit. She was right.
Photo: Michael Buckner/Variety/Getty Images.
Brunson also won an Emmy of her own for Outstanding Writing For A Comedy Series — once again, making Emmys history as the second Black woman and the third Black person to take home the trophy — but the epic moment for the Hollywood newbie was unfortunately overshadowed by the unnecessary antics of late night host and category presenter, Jimmy Kimmel. After an especially unfunny bit prior to the announcement that involved him pretending to be passed out on the floor, Brunson had to step over him to get to the microphone for her speech. Ever good natured and professional, the Abbott Elementary star didn’t miss a beat and was still able to give her thanks in front of the crowd. 
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Brunson may not have thought much of the “joke” at the time — “I think in that moment, I was just really happy that it was Jimmy up there,” she told reporters in response to Kimmel’s behavior. “I kind of consider him one of the comedy godfathers.” — but the internet didn’t take kindly to it, and for good reason. A white man trying to steal a Black woman’s spotlight in one of the most important moments of her career? I’d say that’s a pretty spot-on metaphor for Hollywood, a space in which Black people, specifically Black women, are always trying to fight for what’s theirs.
But not even the shenanigans of an unfunny white man could take away from the glory of Brunson’s big moment. The actress, who we first met and fell in love with via hilarious YouTube sketches just a few years back, is now an Emmy winner, and for a show that is dedicated to shining a light on the pressing matter of education reform. And though Ralph may be on the other end of the career spectrum, it's a beautiful testament to Brunson’s vision and love for Black women that she was able to create a vehicle for Ralph to finally get her long overdue flowers. Brunson deserves this win and every win for Abbott Elementary that is sure to come down the line. (And Jimmy Kimmel better not be on the stage next time.) 

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