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How this year’s Emmys were political and oddly hypocritical

Do political speeches mean anything if celebrities are happy to laugh alongside Sean Spicer?

The 69th Primetime Emmy Awards aired on CBS on Sunday with Stephen Colbert presenting. Naturally, as with all awards shows for the last couple of years and until we leave our dystopian present, things turned political early. Before the ceremonial back-slapping even began Issa Rae made it clear she came to root for “everybody black”, Ru Paul actually turned into an Emmy and then the night flipped between inspirational and weird in equal measure.


During Colbert’s opening speech, Trump’s former acting White House Communications Director Sean Spicer rolled out his podium to have a jab at his old boss. He joked, “this will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys period, both in person and around the world”, mocking the time he used “alternative facts” to try and dismantle democracy.

The celebrities present seemed to have collective amnesia about who Sean Spicer was and what he represented as they laughed and enjoyed the fun, forgetting that being fired by Trump does not absolve Spicer of his own crimes. James Corden also gave him a kiss on the cheek in an image that echoed Jimmy Fallon ruffling Trump’s hair before he became president. You’d think we’d have learned.


Elsewhere, away from the Sean Spicer shitshow, the Emmys were still highly political. Dystopian drama The Handmaid’s Tale won five awards, including best drama series, best actress for Elisabeth Moss, and best supporting actress for Ann Dowd. Notably, the ‘San Junipero’ episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror also won the trophy for best TV movie, to which Brooker said it was “a story about love, and love will defeat hate, it will win”.


Throughout the night, Trump was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Donald Glover, who made history as the first African American to win an Emmy for directing a comedy series, also won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for Atlanta. He said, “I want to thank Trump for making black people the number one on the ‘most oppressed’ list. He's probably the reason I'm up here.” Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who won the award for best actress in a comedy series for her role on Veep for a record-breaking sixth year in a rowjoked that they scrapped an impeachment storyline because “someone else might get there first.” Lena Waithe was the first black woman ever to win the Emmy for writing on a comedy series. Riz Ahmed was the first person of Asian descent to win an acting Emmy. It was, even if it's outrageous that it didn't happen until 2017, a pretty diverse year.


When accepting an award for Big Little Lies, Nicole Kidman said “the power of television has astounded us, you allowed us into your living rooms... but as much as the show has the entertainment value, it's about the issues.” Despite all of that, and despite all of the many, many political references and jokes made onstage, it’s hard to feel reassured by the same highly privileged celebrities who are perfectly happy to cosy up to people like Sean Spicer for a joke. Making a jab at the president in a speech means very little if you’re just going to laugh with the other people responsible. It’s ironic and a little gross that these are the same people giving Alec Baldwin an award for his performance as Trump on Saturday Night Live. Additionally, despite the awards given to shows like The Handmaid's Tale and Big Little Lies that have storylines of domestic abuse and misogyny, the Emmys still memorialised and honoured accused sexual harasser Roger Ailes. Awards and speeches mean very little until Hollywood and the people working within it start prioritising the voices of the oppressed people they claim to care about.