Winning Acceptance Speeches at the 2019 Emmys

As awards ceremonies tend to be, the hostless Emmy Awards on Sunday night was mostly a long and boring show. There were a few highlights, including Billy Porter’s history-making win as the first openly gay man to win an Emmy in the Best Dramatic Acting category for his work in Pose. Porter’s acceptance speech, along with those from Michelle Williams, Patricia Arquette, and Alex Borstein were the real standouts of the evening. Each imparted important messages about acceptance, pay equality—especially for women of color, full transgender inclusion in the workforce, and how “stepping out of line” can make all the difference in the world. Here are the highlights of the night’s best speeches. 

When Michelle Williams won the Emmy for her role as Gwen Verndon in Fosse/Verndon, she took the opportunity to thank her studio bosses for paying her equally. And while she was at it, she shone a light on the gender/race pay gap—particularly wide for women of color. In 2017, Williams was at the center of the much-discussed pay gap for her reshoots on All the Money in the World—for which she received $1,000 to Mark Wahlberg’s $1.5 million (Wahlberg donated that sum to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund). Williams received a standing ovation for her speech. Viewers were quick to level complaints toward the Academy—pointing out that the category for which Williams won, included no women of color. 

“I see this as an acknowledgment of what is possible when a woman is trusted and feels safe enough to voice her needs and respected enough to be heard … my bosses never presumed to know better than I did about what I needed in order to do my job and honor Gwen Verdon. Thank you so much to FX and Fox 21 studios for supporting me and paying me equally, because they understood that when you put value into a person, it empowers that person to get in touch with their own inherent value. Where do they put that value? They put it into their work. The next time a woman — and especially a woman of color, because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white male counterparts — tells you what she needs in order to do her job, listen to her, believe her, because one day she might stand in front of you and say thank you for allowing her to succeed because of her workplace environment and not in spite of it.” 

Patricia Arquette, in her acceptance speech for her work in The Act, delivered a powerful and personal message about the treatment of transgender women in society and in our economy. She highlighted that more than a third of Black trans-women live in extreme poverty, earning an average of $10,000/year and have thus far been largely relegated to sex work.

I’m grateful at 50 to be getting the best parts of my life. And that’s great, but in my heart, I’m so sad. I lost my sister Alexis, and that trans people are still being persecuted. And I’m in mourning every day of my life, Alexis, and I will be the rest of my life for you until we change the world and trans people are not persecuted. And give them jobs. They’re human beings, let’s give them jobs. Get rid of this bias that we have everywhere. Thank you.”

When Alex Borstein took the stage to accept her second Emmy for her work in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, she paid tribute to her immigrant grandmother—who owed her survival of the Holocaust to a daring and defiant act of bravery. Borstein retold the story as a way to inspire the women watching to bravely “step out of line.”

“To my grandmother, Nudgy, they are immigrants, they are Holocaust survivors. My grandmother turned to a guard…She was in line to be shot into a pit and she said, ‘What happens if I step out of line,’ and he said, ‘I don’t have the heart to shoot you, but somebody will,’ and she stepped out of line, and for that I am here, and my children are here, so step out of line, ladies. Step out of line.”

Rounding out the evening—and filed under “two steps forward, one step backward”: 

  • Jharrel Jerome won Best Lead Actor for Ava Duverney’s When They See Us. The actor made history as the youngest winner at age 21 and the first Afro-Latino to win in the category. 
  • For the first time, a majority of the nominated comedies were created by women, including winner Fleabag, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Veep, and Russian Doll.
  • Sadly, representation declined this year with only 24 acting nominations for people of color this year, down from last year’s record of 38—this despite a larger, more diverse television academy.

Take Action! Share your favorite acceptance speech of the night and show your support for acceptance, inclusion, pay equality, and bravery!