As Emmy season kicks into high gear, the Television Academy took a moment on Thursday to celebrate a handful of programs that have tackled critical social issues.
Hosted by “Claws” star Niecy Nash and held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, the event honored the dramas “A Million Little Things” (ABC) and “Pose” (FX); the children’s show “Alexa & Katie” (Netflix); the documentary specials “I Am Evidence” (HBO) and “RBG” (CNN); and documentary series “Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story” (Paramount Network) and “My Last Days” (The CW).
“Get your Kleenex ready,” Nash quipped at the start of the hour-long ceremony. “These seven honorees carry with them the gravity of each story and power of each singular voice to speak his or her own truth.”
Indeed, the night started off on an emotional note when Sybrina Fulton, the mother of unarmed slain teenager Trayvon Martin, took the stage to help accept the award for “Rest in Power.”
“You never know what role God is going to lead you in,” she said. “You never know your purpose in life until you’re put in that position. This is for my son, Trayvon Martin.” Added director Julia Willoughby Nason: “[Martin’s family] sacrificed their privacy despite their tremendous pain. We will fight for Trayvon for the rest of our lives.”
Accepting for “Pose,” creator Steven Canals said the FX drama was borne out of his desire “to see myself, my people on television… ‘Pose’ is a love letter to our forebearers and ourselves.”
Added writer and director Janet Mock, who became the first transgender woman of color to write and direct a major TV episode, ” ‘Pose’ was our story to tell. We, the ones who lived it, are the most equipped to tell our stories… LGBTQ people have lived on the margins for far too long. ‘Pose’ is a reminder to the world we are and always have been our own heroes.”
Heather Warden, creator of Netflix’s youth-oriented comedy “Alexa & Katie,” recounted the challenge of balancing the show’s laughs with tackling the subject of young people coping with cancer. She also noted that it was too much for one network: “This pilot was once somewhere else,” Warden recounted. “And the note I got back was, ‘what if instead of cancer she had diabetes?'”
The ultimate idea behind the show, Warden said, was “we have to find humor during these horrible, scary times. Laughter helps us breathe again.”
“RBG” filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen brought down the house by dropping down on the stage and doing a few push-ups — in honor of their documentary subject, the very active Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“This year, at age 86, Ginsburg has recovered from her third cancer surgery and is tackling her job on the Supreme Court with the same fierce determination that she holds a plank,” West said.
“My Last Days” creator Justin Baldoni said, via a video, said about his show, which follows people tackling bucket list items while facing the end of their lives, “this was a taboo subject that no one wanted to touch… This is real life, real people, real stories.”
“A Million Little Things” creator DJ Nash ended the show by sharing several stories he has heard from viewers who have struggled with mental health issues, or have been impacted by suicide. “The biggest surprise to me, while I set out to tell my story, what I realized along the way is we’re telling all our stories,” he said. “The mental health community has been so supportive of our show.”
This year’s chosen programs addressed a wide variety of topics including race relations, gender discrimination, LGBTQ+ issues, women’s rights, mental health, alcoholism, childhood illness and more.
Television Academy chairman/CEO Frank Scherma opened the event, which was organized by Honors selection committee chairs including TV Academy casting peer group governor Howard Meltzer and vice chair Mitch Waldow.
[Pictured: Steven Canals and Janet Mock, “Pose”]