As a kindergarten teacher on “Abbott Elementary,” she can get an unruly class to sit up and listen. And that’s exactly what Sheryl Lee Ralph did at the Emmys — capturing the attention of a packed theater and a global TV audience with a stirring acceptance speech for the ages.
It was the first Emmy (and nomination) for stage and screen veteran Ralph, at 65, and she made the most of it, delivering the ultimate feel-good moment of the Emmys.
“Abbott Elementary,” from writer, producer and star Quinta Brunson, has been a smash hit for ABC, earning critical acclaim and breaking ratings records. With seven nominations, the series has been a favorite to win in many of the categories. Ralph plays veteran teacher Barbara Howard at the fictional school.
Tearfully accepting the award, Ralph began her speech with a moving rendition of “Endangered Species” by Dianne Reeves that had the entire crowd on its feet. The actress belted out, “I am an endangered species but I sing no victim’s song. I am a woman, I am an artist, and I know where my voice belongs.”
Continued Ralph, “Anyone who has ever, ever had a dream and thought your dream … 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.” She went on to specifically shout out Brunson, her husband and children in the speech.
The speech immediately got the actress trending on Twitter where viewers called it one of the best Emmys speeches of the night and of all time. One user wrote, “Give Sheryl Lee Ralph a Tony for her Emmy acceptance speech, please and thank you.”
Ralph’s win is also a historic one at the Emmys, as she is only the second Black actress to ever win in the category. Thirty-five years ago, Jackée Harry won for her role of Sandra Clark on “227.” Harry herself celebrated Ralph’s win on Twitter, congratulating the fellow actress on her new trophy, while also disclosing that Ralph was actually supposed to play Sandra all those years ago.
Some other notable Emmy moments:
LIZZO’S POIGNANT REMINDER
She was visibly blown away by Ralph’s speech, but soon Lizzo was onstage for her own emotional win for her competition series, “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls,” in which contestants vie to be her backup dancers, beating out frequent winner “Ru Paul’s Drag Race.” The singer gave a compelling lesson on how crucial representation is in our pop culture. “When I was a little girl, all I wanted to see was me in the media,” she said. “Someone fat like me, Black like me, beautiful like me.” She said she eventually did, but she had to be that person. Lizzo gave a shout-out to her dancers in the balcony. “This is for the big girls!” she said.
When Jerrod Carmichael won best writing for a comedy special with his “Jerrod Carmichael: Rothaniel,” he decided to end the evening then and there on a high note, saying he was going home. “I made something that was of great personal consequence to me and this definitely contributes to the meaning of it,” he said of his very personal special. “I’m not like a sore winner, but I’m gonna go home because I can’t top this right now.”
ABOUT THOSE THANK-YOU CAPTIONS
It seemed like a good idea — leading up to the Emmys, nominees were told to send in written lists of people they’d like to thank, to be used in captioning, so their eventual speeches could be more creative, unencumbered by all those names. In reality, though, only some winners had the captioning, and even those who did proceeded to thank a long list of people anyway, making it all feel rather moot.