Although Hollywood has never been the best when it comes to the representation of women, recent years have marked some real change. TV, especially, has generally been a more progressive landscape than movies, and the past few years have seen shows like Orange is the New Black, Orphan Black, and everything touched by Our Queen Shonda Rhimes gain popularity and start some real discussions about feminism on-screen. So it's no surprise that, by and large, the 2015 Emmy Awards honored women in a fantastic way.
When the nominations were announced earlier this summer, it was already reason enough for women everywhere to cheer; 15 of the 18 nominees for Leading Actress in the comedy, drama, and mini-series categories were women over 35, according to The Huffington Post. It was thrilling to see actresses like Viola Davis and Taraji P. Henson score nominations, especially when many of them were being honored for roles that don't shy away from discussing matters like age, beauty standards, and feminism. It wasn't all good news, of course; a study by the Women's Media Center reported that just 25 percent of director, writer, producer, and editor nominees this year were women, a figure that's disappointing, if not surprising. Still, for the most part, the Emmy nominations seemed to indicate that serious change was happening in the way women were represented on TV, and how they were rewarded for their roles.
And thankfully, the actual show only proved that the change was real. Starting with the red carpet, where the #AskHerMore campaign caused interviewers — well, most of them — to focus more on a star's career than her looks, for once, the 2015 Emmys turned out to be a fantastically feminist show. First, there was the always-great Allison Janney making history by winning her seventh Emmy, tying her with Ed Asner for the most performance Emmy wins, ever. Then there was the equally great Julia Louis-Dreyfus taking home the Emmy for Best Comedy Actress, a well-deserved win for a star who may have reached her "Last F*ckable Day" but is consistently one of the best performers around. And later, the very woman who made fun of Hollywood's age double standard in that viral sketch, the wonderful Amy Schumer, won for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series.
Other winners were even more exciting. Two women won for Directing, which, considering the gender divide behind-the-scenes, is a truly fantastic thing. Jill Soloway won for Transparent, while Lisa Cholodenko won for Olive Kitteridge, two shows that have made huge strides for the way women are portrayed on-screen and the female-centric stories that are told. Transparent, in particular, has been groundbreaking in telling the story of a trans woman, transitioning late in life; it was truly great to see actor Jeffrey Tambor take home the prize for Best Comedy Actor, and dedicate his speech to the trans community.
There were other great wins throughout the night, too, such as Uzo Aduba taking home the prize for Best Supporting Actress, Drama, and Frances McDormand being honored with Best Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie. Yet the most significant winner of all was Viola Davis, who won the Emmy for Best Actress, Drama — the first black woman ever to do so in that category. In an emotional speech, Davis discussed the hardships she's faced as a woman of color trying to make it in Hollywood, stating that "The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there." She thanked Murder producer Shonda Rhimes and actresses like Kerry Washington for helping pave the way for her continued success.
All in all, it was a wonderfully inclusive night for women at the Emmys; the actresses and behind-the-scenes folks honored represented women from all ages, races, and walks of life, women who play bold, complicated characters with realistic flaws and messy backgrounds. It was a welcome change from the typical awards show, in which the focus tends to be on white, 20-something stars, and women, even Best Actress contenders, often play second fiddle to their male counterparts. Future ceremonies could learn something from this year's Emmys — and the current TV landscape, in general — when it comes to female representation.
Today's TV isn't perfect, of course; it would be nice if a trans actress had played Maura on Transparent rather than a cisgender man, and if Shonda Rhimes wasn't tasked with single handedly ensuring diversity on network television. Still, this year's Emmys were a great reminder that change is happening, and when it comes to the representation of women, Hollywood is slowly but surely moving in the right direction.