An entire audience of nominees were up on their feet to celebrate Jharrel Jerome's 2019 Emmy win for When They See Us. Jerome took home the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series for his portrayal of Korey Wise in Netflix's series — the show's first of the night. As he made his way on stage, the entire audience stood up to give him an enthusiastic round of applause, including his fellow nominees, and a few very special guests.
In the audience at the Microsoft Theater were Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise, now known as the Exonerated Five. The five men of color, who were wrongly imprisoned for the rape of a 28-year-old woman in 1989, attended the show as guests of When They See Us director, Ava DuVernay.
This marked Jerome's first Emmy win, as well as his first ever nomination. In fact, When They See Us was Jerome's first major leading role, after his breakout performance in 2016's Moonlight. Coincidentally, he was up against his Moonlight co-star Mahershala Ali, nominated for his work in True Detective Season 3. A supportive Ali was one of the very first audience members to give Jerome a standing ovation, quickly followed by the rest of the A-list audience.
Once the crowd calmed down enough for Jerome to deliver his speech, the young actor thanked his parents, as his mother cheered from the audience, as well as DuVernay, before dedicating the Emmy to the Exonerated Five. "But most importantly, this is for the men that we know as the Exonerated Five," Jerome said, as they stood once more in the audience. "Thank you so much, it's an honor, it's a blessing."
The actor earned rave reviews for his portrayal of Wise in the series. While the other members of the Exonerated Five, Richardson, McCray, Salaam, and Santana, were played by two actors throughout the four-episode miniseries — one to play them as teens, and one as adults — Wise was played by Jerome throughout, making his performance particularly unique.
According to Jerome, the casting was just a stroke of good luck. As he explained in an interview with Deadline, when he first auditioned for Young Korey, he was sporting a beard for another project, that made him "look about 35." Five months later, DuVernay still had not cast the part, he came back clean shaven, catching the director's attention. "I read the young part, and then she gave me the older part to read. The next day she called me and said, 'I want to give you a challenge. I want to give you young Korey, but your challenge is I'm also going to give you old Korey,'" he recounted to Deadline. "And I flipped out. I couldn't even breathe, it was unreal."
Jerome's win is also a notable win for diversity at the Emmys. Jerome, who is Dominican-American, was one of four Latinx performers nominated at the 2019 Emmys, per REMEZCLA. The site also reported on Twitter that he was the first Afro-Latino actor to win an acting Emmy.
Jerome will appear in Season 3 of Mr. Mercedes in October, and will next be seen starring in Concrete Cowboys alongside Idris Elba and Stranger Things' Caleb McLaughlin.