As vigils honoring Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court justice who died on Friday, continued throughout the United States on Sunday, television stars gathered virtually for the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards, one of the first major awards shows to take place during the pandemic.
The loss wasn’t explicitly mentioned until over an hour into the show, when Regina King said, “Rest in power, R.B.G.,” while accepting her acting Emmy for “Watchmen” and wearing a shirt bearing Breonna Taylor’s likeness. But calls to vote were plentiful — perhaps not surprisingly, with the battle to fill the vacancy left by Justice Ginsburg already in full swing in Washington.
More surprising, perhaps, was how some winners and presenters stressed the more practical aspects of voting. As James Poniewozik, the chief television critic for The New York Times, put it on Sunday night: “It’s not super unusual for recipients to make political statements at awards shows. But I’m struck by how many are emphasizing how to vote — as in logistically — which honestly is a political statement in itself in this election.”
“You’ve got to vote,” King said. “I would be remiss not to mention that, being a part of a show as prescient as ‘Watchmen.’ Have a voting plan, go to Ballotpedia.com. Vote up the ballot please. Go to Ballotpedia.com and find out who you’re voting in your municipal elections. It is very important. Be a good human.”
Earlier in the show, while presenting, Tracee Ellis Ross, who was nominated for “black-ish,” said: “Stay safe, make a plan for voting, wear a mask.” She asked Jimmy Kimmel, who hosted from an almost empty Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, “Is there a census form, and is my polling location in the gift bag?”
Kimmel, who has hosted the Emmys twice before — in 2016 and in 2012, both general election years — led the in memoriam segment with a short remembrance for Justice Ginsburg.
Daniel Levy, who won several Emmys for “Schitt’s Creek,” and Mark Ruffalo, who won for “I Know This Much Is True,” also emphasized the importance of making a plan to vote. They both urged Americans to vote for love, compassion and kindness.
Another recurring theme on Sunday night was racial justice. Uzo Aduba, who won for her role in “Mrs. America,” also wore a shirt paying tribute to Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old emergency room technician who was killed by police in a botched drug raid in Louisville, Ky., in March.
Damon Lindelof, the creator of “Watchmen,” another Emmys favorite, wore a shirt that read “Remember Tulsa ’21,” a reference to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, which the show depicted. And Sterling K. Brown, while presenting the final award of the night for best drama series, wore a Black Lives Matter shirt, printed with the letters BLM and a raised fist.
One the most fervent messages of the night was delivered by Anthony Anderson, who was nominated for “black-ish.”
“You know, we have a record number of Black Emmy nominees this year, which is great,” he told Kimmel and viewers. “This Emmys would have been N.B.A. All-Star weekend and Wakanda all wrapped into one. This was supposed to be the Blackest Emmys ever. You all wouldn’t have been able to handle how Black it was going to be. But because of Covid, we can’t even get in the damn building.”
“We would have had speeches quoting our great poets, like Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Cardi B,” Anderson went on. “I’m still rooting for everybody Black. Because Black stories, Black performances and Black lives matter. Say it with me, Jimmy.”
The pair chanted “Black lives matter,” with Anderson urging Kimmel to raise his voice. “Louder, Jimmy. Say it so that Mike Pence can hear it.”
And Tyler Perry, accepting the Governors Award, gave a stirring speech about a quilt his grandmother gave him and how it represented the African-American experience.
In 2016, the last time Kimmel hosted the Emmys, he suggested that Mark Burnett, creator of “The Apprentice,” was at fault for the candidacy of Donald Trump, who hosted the reality show. “Many have asked, who is to blame for Donald Trump?” Kimmel said. Pointing out Burnett in the audience, Kimmel added: “Thanks to Mark Burnett, we don’t have to watch reality shows anymore because we’re living in one.”
“Who do you have lined up to fill the spot on the Supreme Court? Miley Cyrus or CeeLo?” Kimmel asked him. Antonin Scalia died the February before the 2016 election.
President Trump has complained about the Emmys several times over the years, calling the awards show, among other things, “a con game,” “a total joke” and “all politics.” “The Apprentice” received several Emmys nominations but never won.
Sopan Deb contributed reporting.