“It's been an incredible year for women on television,” Reese Witherspoon said while accepting the Emmy award for Outstanding Limited Series for Big Little Lies, a show that she co-executive produced and starred on with Nicole Kidman, who told ET backstage that this show was born out of them wanting to have roles that felt interesting.
But as the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards demonstrated on Sunday night, the past year wasn’t just incredible for women on TV, but it was also a great year for women off-screen. In fact, women, more or less, dominated the ceremony.
Of the major awards, female-driven shows won a majority of the top series categories. The Handmaid’s Tale took home Outstanding Drama, Veep -- which earned Julia Louis-Dreyfus a record seventh acting Emmy -- won Outstanding Comedy, while Big Little Lies took home Limited Series and Black Mirror’s “San Junipero,” about a lesbian couple, won Outstanding TV Movie. While an ensemble show, Saturday Night Live won Outstanding Variety Sketch Series for what could be argued was largely thanks to Kate McKinnon’s contribution as the season’s MVP and two-time Emmy winner for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.
McKinnon bested two of her SNL co-stars, Leslie Jones and Vanessa Bayer, while Melissa McCarthy won for her guest work. Alec Baldwin predictably won for his impersonation of Donald Trump as Supporting Actor, but the season was largely dominated by McKinnon’s multiple portrayals of Hillary Clinton and White House administrators on a largely politically themed season.
Behind the camera, Lena Waithe and Reed Morano were the big winners, ending longtime male streaks in their respective categories. Waithe, who previously credited the “black girl magic” onset, took home the writing trophy for her superb episode (“Thanksgiving”) of Master of None, marking the first time a black woman won Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. She shared the award with creator Aziz Ansari, who won the previous year with Alan Yang. Meanwhile, Morano kicked off what's shaping up to be a historic year for directors.
In the second time ever that three women were nominated for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series, Morano came out on top with The Handmaid’s Tale. She was the first woman to win since Mimi Leder for ER in 1995. She is only one of a small handful of female directors to be nominated, including Patty Jenkins for The Killing in 2011. (Jenkins is potentially on her way to the Oscars for her work helming Wonder Woman.)
While not handed out on Sunday, Ava DuVernay earned two Emmys for her Netflix documentary, 13th. She was eventually joined by Kidman, Louis-Dreyfus, Moss, all three of whom won in their respective acting categories, Eryn Krueger Mekash and Joy Zapata, who all took home two trophies, tying for the most wins by individuals during the 2017 ceremonies.
In total, Saturday Night Live took home nine trophies, followed by Big Little Lies and The Handmaid’s Tale, which won eight each, and Veep, which earned another five. In addition, other female-driven shows -- Black Mirror (“San Junipero”), The Crown and Feud: Bette and Joan -- won two Emmys each.
On top of that that Moss, Ann Dowd and Alexis Bledel finally earned long overdue Emmys for their work on The Handmaid’s Tale, which marked the first time a streaming network took home Outstanding Drama Series. Of the nine Emmy wins, six went to women, with Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Contemporary or Fantasy Program (One Hour or More) shared by Julie Berghoff and Sophie Neudorfer. “The fact that it's for this show, obviously I'm incredibly proud of it, [but] personally, it does mean a lot to me,” Moss told ET backstage.
This is not to say that the Emmys don’t have its shortcomings. After back-to-back wins for Transparent, Jill Soloway, who rally-cried for Hollywood to topple the patriarchy, was shut out of the Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series. Women are still largely a minority in directing and writing Emmy categories, representing only 21 percent of this year’s nominated writers. Only three women -- from Morano’s category -- were nominated among Emmys’ six directing categories. As for Morano, she could have won two awards, but lost her second -- cinematography for a single-camera series (half-hour) for Divorce -- to Dale Stern of Veep.
“When you take women, people of color, trans people, queer people, and you put them at the center of the story, the subjects instead of the objects, you change the world, we found out,” Soloway said in 2016. Her sentiments were echoed again a year later.
“Can I just say, bring women to the front of their own stories, and make them the hero of their own stories. And thank you for that opportunity and for audiences to wrap their arms around us,” Witherspoon continued, with Kidman adding: “So now more great roles for women, please.”
Backstage, Kidman reflected to ET on the implications of their Big Little Lies wins: “It shows women that you can actually create opportunities for yourself.”