Emmys 2019: Few Latinos Nominated, But One Historic Win on TV’s Biggest Night

Lead Photo: Jharrel Jerome poses with award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie in the press room during the 71st Emmy Awards on September 22, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Jharrel Jerome poses with award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie in the press room during the 71st Emmy Awards on September 22, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
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“Television has never been this good.” That was Bryan Cranston at the start of the 2019 Emmy Awards in what was ostensibly an opening monologue. And there’s little to dispute that. Shows like One Day at a Time, Vida, Superstore, Narcos: Mexico, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Jane the Virgin, Orange is the New Black, On My Block, When They See Us and Pose have been redefining what it means to create not just good but great TV. Alas, only the latter two of those shows made it to the main stage of television’s biggest night. Television has never been this good, it seems, but Latinos continue to be sidelined in such a discussion.

That’s precisely what actress Wanda De Jesus and her husband Jimmy Smits talked about with us on the red carpet ahead of the show. Smits was keen to celebrate the progress he’s seen and how Latino characters have blossomed in recent years. “I think that has to do with,” he shared, “our population numbers, how they have been increased. And it’s about trying to keep it positive.” De Jesus was less enthused about even addressing such a question: “I think the day we stop asking the question is the day that we’re really blossoming. We’ve been asking the same question for 20 years.”

And from the night’s proceedings, you really wouldn’t get a sense that Latino shows or characters had been trying to make strides for that long. Or longer even! Many of us were rooting for the Netflix Limited Series about the “Exonerated Five” and the FX drama about the ballroom scene. Alas they both only nabbed wins for its leading actors (Jharrel Jerome and Billy Porter respectively, both of whom made history when they picked up their trophies). Those were two of the must-see speeches of the night in an otherwise stilted hostless telecast that saw Fleabag, Game of Thrones and Chernobyl dominate much of the night. So whether you skipped the ceremony because your faves were ignored or want to relive the moments of Latinxcellence it offered (if ever so sporadically), take a look at the Latino highlights from the show below.

Ricky and Lucy Get a Shoutout

Introducing the Comedy categories at the start of the show Ben Stiller walked us through some of the legends of the genre, including the iconic duo behind the I Love Lucy Show. He reminded viewers that the sitcom as we know it today (and as it was later picked up by the likes of Bob Newhart, who joined Stiller on stage for some banter) dated back to the comedy series headlined by ditzy, redheaded Lucy and her hot-tempered husband Ricky Ricardo, a Cuban-American bandleader. It was a lovely throwback and a reminder that the Emmys did at one point celebrate shows created by and co-starring Latino talent!

Jimmy Smits Reminds Us Why He’s Emmy Royalty

Bradley Whitford and Jimmy Smits speak onstage during 71st Emmy Awards on September 22, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Just as with the nominations themselves, there were few Latinos up on the Emmy stage. One of the exceptions was Jimmy Smits (an Emmy winner for L.A. Law) who, along with Bradley Whitford presented Chernobyl‘s Craig Mazin with the award for Writing in a Limited Series (besting the writers behind When They See Us). The two West Wing actors didn’t get to banter much but it was a treat to see a legend like eleven-time nominee Smits up on the stage, looking as fine as ever.

Jharrel Jerome Wins, Makes History

Earning a standing ovation, the Dominican-American actor made history by becoming the first Afro-Latino (and first Dominican) to win an Emmy in the prime-time acting categories. Holding back tears and speaking from the heart, the When They See Us star opened his speech by noting he “should be just in the Bronx or something.” Instead, he was here celebrating his win in front of people who had inspired him. “Mamá, papá, te quiero,” he added before dedicating his much-deserved award to the “Exonerated Five” who cheered him on from the audience. Also cheering him on? His proud mom who couldn’t have looked happier for her Bronx-born son. Backstage, he reflected on what the big win means for him and the larger community.

Lin-Manuel Miranda Razzles and Dazzles (Backstage, of Course)

Emmy winner, future EGOT winner (trust us, he’s just missing an Oscar and we’re crossing our fingers for In the Heights to go all the way), and star of the upcoming HBO series His Dark Materials, Lin-Manuel Miranda brought some of his Broadway cred to the show by introducing a song-and-dance number celebrating the Variety Show genre that included Adam Devine, dancers, showgirls, and even a juggling Meryl Streep (well, someone wearing a mask of Meryl Streep). But the real joy of having the Hamilton star on a show like the Emmys was his on-point Twitter thread soon after, which was just as effusive and exciting as you’d hope. (Bonus: it includes a great bit of Jharrel Jerome/In the Heights trivia!)

Jane the Virgin (And Others) Say Goodbye

This year saw the end of many beloved series. Yes, the big dragons show bid goodbye (and won a final Best Drama Series Emmy) but thankfully the Television Academy saw fit to celebrate a number of other series who went off the air in the 2018-2019 season. Spoiler alert: the montage included a lovely look at our beloved Jane the Virgin, the little CW show that may not have ever broken through with the Emmys but which nevertheless cemented its place in television history with its touching blend of telenovela trappings and romance novel storylines. We already miss you Jane Villanueva!

Jharrel’s Swagger Is Inspiring

Honestly, if you became the youngest ever winner for Lead Actor in a Limited Series, you’d be just as likely to strut down the Emmys stage as Jharrel Jerome did. The Dominican-American actor was meme-worthy as he picked up his award but his walk down the stage was just as iconic, the kind of energy we should all channel as a new week (and TV season!) kicks off.