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Sheryl Lee Ralph took home the Emmy for best supporting actress in a comedy series during Monday night’s 2022 Emmys and made history.
The Abbott Elementary actress was nominated alongside co-star Janelle James as well as Alex Borstein (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Hannah Einbinder (Hacks), Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live), Sarah Niles (Ted Lasso), Juno Temple (Ted Lasso) and Hannah Waddingham (Ted Lasso).
When taking the stage, an emotional Ralph was at a loss for words but began singing a verse from Dianne Reeves’ “Endangered Species” as the audience gave her a standing ovation.
Ralph continued, “To anyone who has ever, ever had a dream and thought your dream wasn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t come true, I am here to tell you that this is what believing looks like — this is what striving looks like. And don’t you ever, ever give up on you, because if you get a Quinta Brunson in your corner, if you get a husband like mine in your corner, if you get children like mine in your corner, and if you’ve got friends like everybody who voted for me, cheered for me, loved me, thank you, thank you, thank you!”
With the win, which marks Ralph’s first Emmy, the actress is now only the second Black woman in history to win in the category. In 1987, Jackée Harry became the first Black actress to win in the category, for 227.
“Winning my Emmy was a career highlight, but it was also a lonely experience,” Harry wrote on Twitter following Ralph’s Emmy moment. “For 35 years I’ve been the only black woman to win Outstanding Supporting Actresses in a Comedy Series. But that all changes tonight… and it’s come full circle! #Emmys.”
Backstage, Ralph reflected on her win and explained why she began her speech with a song: “I’ve been singing that song for years because I think of myself as an artist, as a woman, especially as a woman of color — I’m an endangered species. I don’t sing any victim song. I’m a woman. I’m an artist, and I know where my voice belongs. And there’s so many young actors, artists, even kids that think they know what they’re going to do in life: Find your voice and put it where it belongs.”
She also recalled having dreams of being a Hollywood actress as a child. “I’m a little 5-year-old girl that watched TV on Sunday night, when Tinkerbell came up, went around the steeple, putting stars around everywhere. I remember saying, ‘I’m going to Hollywood, I’m gonna be an actress and I’m gonna drive a Mustang. I’m going there,'” she said. “And the fact that I am here, recognized after all this time as being one of the best of the best in my industry with a group of women, they are all the best. And to top it off, this particular year, tons of great TV, and for my little freshman show to break through, to be seen the way it is … Oh my God, I’ve got the golden ticket. Yes, I do. Where’s my chocolate? I’m ready.”
Ahead of the ceremony, the TV Academy offered nominees the chance to organize their thoughts and gratitude ahead of hitting the stage, to give the winners the opportunity to “speak from the heart and not feel pressure to remember to say all those important names when you are in the spotlight giving your acceptance speech.”
Ralph told THR that her strategy was to give thanks to behind-the-scenes supporters who make the show happen: “I just wanted to make sure that I thanked everybody at ABC, thanked everybody at Warner Bros. and thanked everybody at Disney. It’s so easy to forget the people who literally support this show that are not seen.”
Prior to the show, Ralph also told THR that she felt like she “already won” amid the love she’s received during Emmy season, in particular from young actresses who have expressed their thanks to Ralph. “I’m not saying that I’m the winner. I’m not saying that I’m taking the trophy, but with what I have received, that’s winning right there, and the kind of winning that I think really matters because it’s never going to leave me,” she said.
The 2022 Emmys aired live on Monday from Los Angeles’ Microsoft Theater on NBC and Peacock. Kenan Thompson hosted.
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