Actress Michelle Williams on Tuesday night hailed her Emmy Award as a victory for feminism ― urging viewers to “believe women” in the workplace.
Williams took the stage at Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles after she was named best lead actress in a limited series or movie for her portrayal of Broadway star Gwen Verdon in FX’s “Fosse/Verdon.”
“I see this as an acknowledgement of what is possible when a woman is trusted to discern her own needs, feels safe enough to voice them, and respected enough that they’ll be heard,” she said.
Williams went on to list some of her demands her bosses met en route to her first major Emmy nomination.
“When I asked for more dance classes, I heard yes. More voice lessons, yes. All these things, they required effort, and they cost more money but my bosses never presumed to know better than I did,” she said. “They understood that when you put value into a person, it empowers that person to get in touch with their own inherent value.”
Williams’ takeaway was that women, particularly non-white women, should be similarly accommodated.
“So the next time a woman, especially a woman of color – because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white, male counterpart – tells you what she needs in order to do her job, believe her,” she said. “One day she might stand in front of you and say thank you for allowing [her] to succeed because of her workplace environment and not in spite of it.”
In 2017, Williams was reportedly paid a fraction of what her costar Mark Walhberg made for a reshoot for the film “All the Money in the World,” which made necessary after Kevin Spacey was fired from the lead role over allegations of sexual misconduct. Williams said at a congressional hearing in April that the disparity left her “paralyzed in feelings of futility.”
Walberg later donated his $1.5 million paycheck to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund for victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Michelle Williams Emmy speech for feminism
Two years later, Williams’ acceptance speech received a standing ovation. Her friend, outspoken feminist Busy Phillips, was seen weeping in the audience.
Meanwhile, the moment was widely celebrated in the media for empowering women.
— Jessica Derschowitz (@jessicasara) September 23, 2019
Since Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct kickstarted the #MeToo movement, equal pay and opportunity for women has become a cause célèbre. And Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s three Emmy wins on the night for creating and starring in “Fleabag” were also cheered as a feminist achievement.
Despite losing out to Williams, Patricia Arquette still got the chance to declare herself an icon’s of women’s progress when she accepted the award for best supporting actress in a limited series or movie for her role in Hulu’s “The Act.” But her speech was focused on her transgender sister, who died in 2016 while battling HIV.
“I just have to say I’m grateful to be working. I’m grateful at 50 to be getting the best parts of my life and that’s great,” she said. “But in my heart, I’m so sad I lost my sister Alexis and that trans people are still being persecuted.”
“I’m in mourning, Alexis, and I will be the rest of my life for you until we change the world, until trans people are not persecuted,” Arquette continued. “And give them jobs, They’re human beings, let’s give them jobs, let’s get rid of this bias that we have everywhere.”
More social justice moments
Men also struck blows for social justice.
Billy Porter became the first openly gay black man to win the Emmy for leading actor in a drama series for his role on FX’s “Pose,” which centers on New York City’s black and Latino LGBT ballroom scene in the 1980s.
Jharrel Jerome won for best actor in a limited series for playing Korey Wise, the eldest of the Central Part Five in filmmaker Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us.”
Jerome thanked his mother and DuVernay, before addressing the Central Park Five, who were exonerated for the 1989 rape of a jogger in Central Park.
“But most importantly, this is for the men we know as the Exonerated Five,” he declared.
While on-stage activism is nothing new at the Emmys, the 71st broadcast saw other changes after hitting a record ratings low in 2018, with just 10.2 million viewers tuning in. Most notably, the Emmys followed the lead of the Oscars Awards by going without a host of the first time in 16 years.
HBO’s “Game of Thrones” also made television history, winning for best drama series and tying the record for the most wins in that prestigious category.