Sheryl Lee Ralph’s win for Outstanding Supporting Actress at the 74th Emmy awards for her role as Barbara Howard in ABC’s Abbott Elementary is a trailblazing moment we won’t ever get over.
Earlier during red carpet interviews, she spoke with People about advice Robert De Niro gave her when she worked with him in the 1992 film, Mistress. De Niro told Sheryl Lee Ralph that she’s “a damn good actress, but Hollywood isn’t looking for the Black girl. So you better wave that red flag and let them know you’re here because you deserve to be seen.” She then proudly says that thirty laters she is seen with her Emmy nomination and Thank God she didn’t give up on herself.
Ralph’s interview was enough to resort many of us into blubbering wrecks, and the win was the icing on top of the most brilliant cake. Ralph’s win ultimately promises that hard work will not only pay off someday but believing in oneself is the most essential tool we all have. I can’t help but fixate on her words “didn’t give up on me”—not the dream, not the success, but on herself and the desire to do whatever it is that she believed in. We should all carry those words while striving to improve our lives.
“To anyone who has ever, ever, had a dream and thought your dream wasn’t, couldn’t wouldn’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.”Sheryl Lee Ralph at the 74th Emmy Awards
Additionally, while it feels like we’ve made progress in Hollywood, we’re still so far from where we should be when we look at the fact that Sheryl Lee Ralph is only the second Black woman to win the Emmy for Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. Jackée Harry was the first. In 1987. That’s thirty-five years ago—over three decades. It’s appalling and unimaginable when you look at the remarkable Black actresses we’ve had in comedy through the years.
Another detail that makes Sheryl Lee Ralph’s win so heartwarming is the detail that it’s for her triumphant work on Abbott Elementary. Ralph is hilarious, kind, subtle, and brilliantly compelling with every move, making Barbara Howard the kind of teacher many of us wish we had growing up. And maybe you were lucky enough to experience the blessings of someone like her, but I, for one, wasn’t, which consistently makes the viewing experience of this series feel like the second chance I didn’t know I needed in life.
The world will always need more shows about women who care and women making differences by being their unapologetically brilliant selves. Series star and creator Quinta Brunson also won the Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series for the Abbott Elementary Pilot, one of the few episodes that grips you from the first word to the last.
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Ralph’s win deserves to be constantly celebrated long after awards season is over because worthwhile moments equate to good things happening to those who deserve it. Ralph’s win deserves to be constantly celebrated long after awards season is over because history being made equates to believing in the dreams that feel impossible. Nothing is more apparent than how much she adores playing Barbara Howard, making every moment she’s on-screen a true tour-de-force. And to see that her hard work is finally seen makes believing in ourselves and our dreams feel possible. And to have the award presented to her by Leslie Knope herself, Ms. Amy Poehler, the champion of “find your team and get to work,” feels like a meant-to-be moment I’m personally grateful to have witnessed.