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How Powerful Winners’ Speeches Elevated a Flawed Emmys Telecast (Column)

Say what you will about Sunday’s flawed, lowest-rated Emmy show in history — yes it dragged, the host-less strategy backfired and it had its share of embarrassing bits — but boy, were there some powerful moments that I still can’t shake.

There was that show-stopping acceptance speech by “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” supporting actress winner Alex Borstein, who implored all women to “step out of line!” as her grandmother so boldly did when she was about to be “shot into a pit” at a concentration camp and saved her own life.

I don’t know how it played at home, but I can tell you how moving it was to be in the room when limited series lead actor winner Jharrel Jerome paid tribute to the five real-life exonerated men portrayed in Ava DuVernay’s drama “When They See Us,” and we all leaped to our feet.

Another deserving standing ovation came when “Pose” star Billy Porter made history as the first openly gay black man to win an Emmy for lead actor in a drama series. Quoting novelist and playwright James Baldwin, he said, “It took many years of vomiting up all the filth that I had been taught about myself and halfway believed before I could walk around this Earth like I had the right to be here,” adding, “I have the right. You have the right. We all have the right.”

Patricia Arquette and Michelle Williams also had something to say about having the right. While accepting the award for her supporting role on Hulu’s true-crime limited series “The Act,” Arquette said although she’s so grateful for “getting the best parts of my life” at age 50, she’s forever in deep mourning for the loss of her sister, transgender actress Alexis Arquette, who died of a heart attack in 2016 at 47.

“Fosse/Verdon” lead actress winner Williams had her own shining moment with a plea for pay equity across the entertainment business, especially for women of color, who “stand to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to [their] white male counterparts.”

So while the strength of all of these moments couldn’t prevent this year’s Emmys ratings from plummeting, their significance should not get lost amid all the criticism of the show itself.

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