Film & Television

The Emmy Awards Recognize — and Celebrate — Important Women’s Issues

Over the weekend, I received an email from an online entertainment community I belong too. Which series, I was asked, would sweep the Emmy Awards: Stranger Things or This Is Us? Both shows have solid reviews and extremely loyal followings (I confess to sniveling along with the Pearson triplets on more than one occasion myself). At Sunday night’s awards ceremony, however, these anticipated frontrunners were overshadowed by two high-quality, highly relevant series about women’s issues, one contemporary and one dystopian.

As expected, with Stephen Colbert as this year’s Emmy host, there were direct and indirect jabs at President Trump. Colbert couldn’t resist explaining early on that “Unlike the presidency, Emmys go to the winner of the popular vote.” At one point in his monologue, Sean Spicer appeared behind a podium and insisted that the show would have the “Best ratings ever! Period!” Colbert thanked him, calling him “Melissa McCarthy.” The actress, who had already been recognized with an Emmy for her uncanny portrayal of the former Press Secretary, was less amused than the rest of the audience at the Microsoft Theater. Online buzz after the fact was mostly negative; The Washington Post declared the cameo “Yucky.”

Whether or not Spicer belonged at the Emmys, there was no shortage of anti-Trump commentary or sentiment. Nominees Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin (of Grace and Frankie) were joined by their 9-to-5 costar Dolly Parton. After getting a standing ovation, the actresses didn’t hesitate to make a feminist statement. Fonda began, “Back in 1980, in that movie, we refused to be controlled by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot.” Tomlin continued, “And in 2017 we still refuse to be controlled by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot.” Other critical comments were more subtle, but they continued throughout the evening. Kate McKinnon, who won Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Saturday Night Live, thanked Hillary Clinton for her “grace and grit.” Alec Baldwin, winning Best Supporting Actor also for SNL, quipped “At long last, Mr. President, here’s your Emmy,” then announced that dressing up as Trump was the most effective form of birth control. All-in-all, Saturday Night Live won nine awards, the most of any nominated show.

Close on its heels was one of the series I alluded to earlier. The Handmaid’s Tale, a joint production of Hulu and MGM, won eight Emmys out of its thirteen nominations. Based closely on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian classic, but with ill-omened relevance today, The Handmaid’s Tale is set in near future, post-civil war “Gilead,” where women’s reproductive rights have been seized by the state. Chemical warfare and pollution have made many of its ruling class barren. So, the minority of women who are still fertile are assigned as “handmaids,” from a radically conservative reading of the Christian bible. The show (like the novel before it) follows one particularly aware and resistant handmaid, Offred.

Prior to Sunday’s broadcast (at the Creative Arts Emmy ceremony), Alexis Bledel was recognized as Outstanding Guest Actress for The Handmaid’s Tale. Bledel, whom most of us know — and love — as Rory Gilmore was achingly compelling as one of Offred’s fellow handmaids. As a lesbian, Ofglenn is what Gilead refers to as a “gender traitor,” a sin punishable by death. But, as a woman with functioning ovaries, she gets a reprieve of sorts. Like Offred, she must submit to ritualized rape every month and an uncertain future when and if she bears a child. In accepting her award, Bledel thanked creator Bruce Miller for “writing a character who displays such fortitude amidst utter devastation and then suggesting that I play her.” She thanked star Elisabeth Moss for allowing her to “be a part of this deeply affecting and thought-provoking work.” “It is beyond rewarding,” she said, urging people to “Sign up. Speak up. And stay awake.”

Reed Morano, who directed Handmaid’s pilot among other episodes, became the first woman in 22 years to win Best Director for a drama. She echoed Bledel’s feelings, thanking both Atwood and Moss. Toward the end of the evening, Moss won Best Actress after having been nominated a number of times for other shows (including Mad Men and Top of the Lake). Carried away, she thanked the team behind Handmaid’s Tale, including Atwood “for what you did in 1985 and what you continue to do today for all of us.” Moss went on to thank her mother who had accompanied her to the ceremony. “You are brave and strong and smart, and you have taught me that you can be kind and a fucking badass.” The nimble-fingered censors at NBC were right on top of it.

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  • APA September 19, 2017 at 9:12 am

    Agree whole heartedly with you Alexandra. Both shows are wonderful and disturbing and thought provoking!