In many respects, the 2014 Emmy awards could’ve just as easily aired any other year. There’s a certain timelessness to Supporting Actress in a Comedy winner Allison Janney calling writer/producer Chuck Lorre a “genius” or Jim Parsons taking home a Lead Actor in a Comedy trophy. Any recap of the night’s events might as well be a reprint of the previous year’s highlights — a charming late-night host made jokes about actors’ salaries, Ricky Gervais did something ridiculous, “Modern Family” won every award. Tradition and expectation are usually the lifeblood of the Emmys, and that was mostly the case with this year’s awards.
Except for one enormous difference. As Julianna Margulies so eloquently put it in her Lead Actress in a Drama speech, it’s “a wonderful time for women on television.” Margulies isn’t just speaking about her own series, “The Good Wife,” which finished one of the strongest seasons on television this year. We’re in the middle of a glorious second-wave Golden Age of Television, but just a look at the Actress in a Drama Series category proves how different this round is from years past. The actresses nominated alongside Margulies, including Robin Wright on “House of Cards” and Kerry Washington on “Scandal” play driven and independent women who hold their own alongside their shows’ male stars. Three of the nominated drama actresses had storylines involving the death of a male co-star (I won’t say which ones, because this is a spoiler-free zone), and those men died to elevate character development for the women. Where so many series feature the opposite (“The Walking Dead,” “Sons of Anarchy”), you don’t see those series being nominated. It’s the shows that are brave enough to feature female leads in charge of their careers and sexuality, and know that viewers (and Emmy voters) of every gender are likely to reward smart writing, that take the gold.
Actresses aren’t the only ones reaping the benefits of a feminist Emmys. Most years, a woman could only be guaranteed a trophy in acting categories. In 2014, Gail Mancuso won Directing in a Comedy Series and Moira Walley Beckett was honored for Writing in a Drama Series and Sarah Silverman took Writing in a Variety Special. With only six percent of top-grossing films directed by a woman and only one woman ever winning an Academy Award (Kathryn Bigelow in 2009), Mancuso’s award is also an enormous win for would-be female directors everywhere. Even if it’s just a trophy awarded during the middle hour of a Monday-night awards show, a woman can work on one of the most successful comedies of this decade and receive recognition over her male counterparts. Stephen Colbert apologized in his speech for only employing one female writer, but the Emmys unapologetically rewarded other female writers for their excellent work. Moira Walley-Beckett perfectly crafted the emotional devastation of “Breaking Bad” ’s “Ozymandias” episode, and Sarah Silverman received a trophy for writing her own stand-up special. Women also received recognition for being showrunners in charge of their own series. “Orange Is the New Black” ’s Jenji Kohan and “Masters of Sex” ’s Michelle Ashford and “Girls” ’s Lena Dunham didn’t see their shows win series awards, but their work is inspiring for women who hope to create and write for their own show someday (especially the woman writing this article).
That’s not to say that the Emmy Awards were all about female empowerment. The show featured an offensive, botched attempt at poking fun at objectifying women. While a chairman of the Television Academy spoke, Emmy-award-winning actress Sofia Vergara was put on top of a spinning platform, her body showcased like a human trophy, silenced while the man spoke. Vergara’s heels tottered uncomfortably, and her protests and confusion were ignored while the chairman delivered his speech. The audience laughed, but something about using Vergara’s body, not her excellent comedic timing or charm, as the butt of a joke is especially unsettling.
Familiar favorites may have taken home many of the trophies, but beneath all that “Breaking Bad” fervor, an undercurrent of female empowerment ran through the 2014 Emmys. Actresses, writers and directors were all recognized for their achievements, their facility in taking home awards nearly equal to their male peers. It’s an amazing feeling to watch an awards show and see other creative women rewarded for their achievements, even as that boy in your class might hover over you and your camera, not trusting you with the lenses you know like your ABCs. It’s a long road to equal representation film and TV industry, but seeing someone in a dress, tearful and clutching the trophy she deserves, is a step in the right direction.