Our Eight Favorite Feminist Moments from the 2019 Emmy Awards

“I have the right, you have the right, we all have the right,” Billy Porter declared in his 2019 Emmy awards acceptance speech, making history as the first openly gay black man to win in his category. “We, as artists, are the people that get to change the molecular structure of the hearts and minds of the people who live on this planet. Please don’t ever stop doing that. Please don’t ever stop telling the truth.”

Porter’s speech wasn’t an outlier. The 71st Primetime Emmys on Sunday honored the best of television—but the night’s real winner was feminism. Speeches celebrating political activism abounded. Calls to action echoed through the room.

These were our eight favorite moments. What were yours?

#1: Alex Borstein Encourages Women to “Step Out of Line!”

Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” actor Alex Borstein was the first winner of the night, taking home the award for best supporting actress in a comedy series—and setting the tone, with a moving tribute to her grandmother, for an evening celebrating activism and calling for action.

Borstein recounted a story about her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, asking a guard, “what happens if I step out of line?” She was in line to be shot, but the guard responded: “I don’t have the heart to shoot you, but somebody will.” No one did. “I am here and my children are here,” Borstein said, because of her grandmother’s bravery. “So step out of line, ladies. Step out of line!”

On the same night that Dinesh D’Souza likened Greta Thunberg to Nazi propaganda, Borstein’s message could not have been more important. There is no time for respectability. It’s time to make noise. It’s time to step out of line.

#2: Laverne Cox Served Up a Political Look

Trans trailblazer and actor Laverne Cox paired her Monsoori gown on the red carpet with a custom Edie Parker clutch that addressed Title VII, an upcoming Supreme Court case involving discrimination against trans people. Her date for the night, ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio, told E! News that the case affects “anyone who departs from sex stereotypes, like all the fabulous people here, for example,” and urged viewers to “show up October 8,” when the case will be heard, “and pay attention, because our lives are really on the line.” Cox ended her interview with the hashtag: #RiseUpOctober8th.

#3: Patricia Arquette Calls Out for Trans Inclusion

While accepting an award for “The Act,” actor and feminist activist Patricia Arquette opened up about the death of her sister, trans activist Alexis Arquette. “I will be in mourning for the rest of my life, Alexis,” she said on stage, “until trans people are not persecuted.” Cameras cut to Laverne Cox— who was raising her purse signifying the Title XII case—before Arquette went on to call for heavyweights in Hollywood to hire more trans folks.

#4: RuPaul Wants YOU… to Vote

RuPaul encouraged the audience to vote when accepting his Emmy award. “Go and register to vote!” he shouted. “Go to vote.gov and vote! Register!”

#5: Michelle Williams Demands Equal Pay for Every Woman in Hollywood

“Listen to her. Believe her.” Actor Michelle Williams made 0.7 percent of what her male co-star made for reshoots of All the Money in the World, and she has since become one of the most outspoken proponents of pay equity in Hollywood. When accepting the award for her performances in “Fosse/Verdon,” Williams advocated for positive workplace environments for women, especially women of color.

“I see this as an acknowledgment 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,” Williams declared from the stage. “When you put value in a person, it empowers that person to get in touch with their own inherent value—and then where do they put that value? They put it into their work. And so the next time a woman, and 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, listen to her. Believe her. Because 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.”

#6: Complicated Women Win Big

Phoebe Waller-Bridge won not one, but three Emmys for her work on “Fleabag” last night. Accepting the award for best writing in a comedy, Waller-Bridge underscored: “It’s really wonderful to know a dirty, pervy, angry, messed-up woman can make it to the Emmy.” But she wasn’t the only one to prove it was possible. Jodie Comer, star of Waller-Bridge’s other show, “Killing Eve,” took home the award for best actress in a drama series for her riveting performance as assassin Villanelle, and Patricia Arquette’s performance in “The Act” also decreed that complex, even if unlikeable, women just may be the future of television.


#7: Female Friendship Takes Center Stage

Some of the most poignant moments of Emmy night occurred between co-stars and friends. When Jodie Comer won for “Killing Eve,” she was greeted with a hug from co-star and fellow nominee Sandra Oh. “I think I said that I loved her and I appreciated her,” Comer revealed in a backstage interview with ET Online, “because honestly, this whole experience we’ve gone through together.” Michelle Williams and her date—author and actor Busy Phillips—echoed the sentiment. Backstage, Phillips explained in an interview with ET that they were “just here to fight the patriarchy, the two of us girls making good from ‘Dawson’s Creek.'”


#8: Gwendoline Christie, Lord and Savior

First-time Emmy nominee Gwendoline Christie broke rank when she nominated herself for the awards—because HBO wouldn’t bother. “It was important for everything that the character stands for,” she told Mario Lopez on the carpet. “I feel that those women deserve a voice, the women who are outside traditional patriarchal constraints.” (And she put a twist on those constraints herself when she showed up in a Grecian Gucci gown that looked distinctly biblical.)


Jonathan Chang is an editorial intern at Ms.