Rita Moreno, Hasan Minhaj, Michael Schur, Janet Mock and Dolores Huerta were among the honorees at the 78th annual Peabody Awards who spoke movingly about the power of the medium to change lives and drive social change.
The list of 30-plus Peabody winners ranged from entertainment series such as FX’s “Pose,” NBC’s “The Good Place” and HBO’s “Random Acts of Flyness” to documentaries, podcasts and local investigative reports. Hosted by investigative journalist Ronan Farrow, the ceremony held Saturday night at Cipriani Wall Street featured calls to action and words of praise for mentors and supporters.
Mock, executive producer of the FX drama “Pose,” spoke of the importance of television in shining a light on the humanity and dignity of marginalized communities.
“Pose” has been groundbreaking in its portrayal of transgender characters and struggles in the series from exec producer Ryan Murphy and creator Steven Canals. She said the privilege of working in media “compels each and every one of us to create more spaces where each of us are embraced and applauded for who we truly are.”
“The Good Place” creator/exec producer Schur noted that the NBC comedy that revolves around ethics debuted in 2016, right around the same time that questions of ethics became be a dominant theme in headlines out of Washington and elsewhere. “We like ethics,” Schur said. “They’re available to anyone. Ethics are free!”
Schur suggested that the world would be in better shape if men in power asked themselves three questions: “What the hell am I doing? Why am I doing it? Is there something else that is better than what I’m doing that I could be doing?”
Moreno choked up as she accepted her Peabody career achievement honor. “I am keenly aware of the high value that the Peabody places on storytelling. I am so humbled that you consider the story of my life and career worthy,” she said.
The much decorated performer — an EGOT who now becomes a PEGOT with the Peabody — spoke with reverence about her mother’s sacrifices when she was a young girl in New York City as the daughter of recent Puerto Rican immigrants. Her mother worked as a seamstress in a a sweatshop on Fifth Avenue, to support the family and help Moreno pursue her interest in performing. “She knew the prick of every pin,” Moreno recalled. ‘My fame is her fame.”
Legendary labor leader Huerta led the crowd in a call-and-response chant that demonstrated her natural skill as an organizer and social justice activist. “Who has the power,” she instructed. “We have power. What kind of power? People power!”
Huerta, who was the subject of the “Independent Lens” documentary “Dolores,” told the audience to deliver the rally cry “so loud that the neo-Nazis, the racists, the homophobes, the bigots, the climate deniers, those anti-union people — so loud that they can hear it.” The crowd obliged.
“Sesame Street,” which now airs on HBO and PBS, was honored with an Institutional award on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. Jeffrey Dunn, CEO of production company Sesame Workshop, said the show then and now is dedicated to the mission of trying ” to help disadvantaged kids around the world get ready for school and get ready for life.” Dunn said the message the show delivers about education, kindness and community “is as important to a peaceful and stable world as food and shelter.”
“Killing Eve” executive producer Gina Mingacci accepted on behalf of the BBC America/AMC drama, created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, that has been an awards magnet. Mingacci offered her thanks to “every person even who has come on the show just to be beautifully killed by Villanelle — thank you,” she said.
Rebecca Sugar, creator of Cartoon Network’s “Steven Universe,” urged the crowd to consider the form of animation as “a force for change.” She also praised Cartoon Network for “fighting to include LGBTQ content in children’s media.”
Minhaj, host and exec producer of Netflix’s “Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj,” expressed gratitude to Netflix executives for “letting us piss off autocrats around the world.” “Patriot Act” exec producer Prashanth Venkataramanujam made a point of thanking the journalists in the room for covering the news, political and cultural stories that Minhaj examines every week.
“Thank you very much for doing what you do so we can do what we do,” Venkataramanujam said.
Chris Long, director and exec producer of “The Americans,” accepted for the FX drama series that ended its six-season run to great acclaim last year. Long said that even more than a year after production wrapped, the show “lives on in the hearts” of all those who worked on it. He also gave a shout out to the “higher power” in television, FX Networks chief John Landgraf.
Marcela Gaviria, producer of the “Frontline” news special “Separated: Children at the Border,” called out the need for continued vigilance on the federal government’s handling of border patrol issues and immigration policy.
“To this day we do not know how many immigrant children have been ripped from their families and how many have been reunited,” Gaviria said. ProPublica was recognized with the Catalyst Award for its reporting and publication last year of a harrowing audio recording of Central American children crying after being separated from parents near the U.S.-Mexican border. The distribution of the recording is credited with galvanizing public opinion against the Trump administration’s family separation policy.
Terence Nance, creator/exec producer of HBO’s “Random Acts of Flyness,” said he was pleasantly surprised that the offbeat series examining aspects of African-American life has been embraced with a prestigious Peabody. “We almost died making this show,” Nance said. He praised HBO for supporting his vision. “I know it was scary for y’all a little bit,” Nance said. “You leaned in.”
Chicago-based documentary house Kartemquin Films, the production banner behind such landmark docs as “Hoop Dreams” and “Life Itself,” was honored with an Institutional award. Kartemquin chief Gordon Quinn made a point of thanking “the people who participate in our films, without which there would be no story.”
Stephen Segaller, exec producer of “The Jazz Ambassadors” and head of programming for New York PBS affiliate WNET, noted that the documentary about jazz legends dispatched as ambassadors for American culture overseas had important lessons to tell about the “soft power” that can be used to bring people together. Segaller was fast on his feet when he dropped the heavy gold trophy. After picking it up, he hailed the “prestigious and unbreakable award.”
Documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus used her moment on stage to call for greater resources to be devoted to helping parent of children suffering from mental illness as she accepting the award for the HBO documentary “A Dangerous Son.” “The system’s failing them,” Garbus said.
On hand to accept the award for HBO’s “Barry” were four of the show’s stars: Stephen Root, Anthony Carrigan, Rightor Doyle and D’Arcy Carden took turns passing on reading a statement from series creators Bill Hader (who also stars) and Alec Berg. Root finally read the thank-yous that ended with the exec producers informing the quartet that they would not be returning for the show’s third season. As read by Root, the pair also thanked HBO for “standing behind such a strange idea, even if that means it’s a dark and disturbing place for 30 minutes.”
The first trophy went to Netflix’s offbeat British teen series “The End of the F***ing World.” “Writer Charlie Covell said it was an “enormous honor” and expressed some surprise that “our weird little show deserves such recognition.”
During the ceremony, Peabody Awards executive director Jeffrey P. Jones announced that FX will carry a Peabody Awards-branded special this summer. The “Peabody Presents: Stories of the Year” special revolve around a panel session moderated by Minhaj with Steven Canals, creator of “Pose,” ESPN investigative reporter Paula Lavigne, “Random Acts of Flyness’ ” Nance, and Tracy Heather Strain, writer-director of the PBS/WNET documentary “Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart.”
(Pictured: Billy Porter from “Pose”)