Politics at Emmys: Jeb Bush Joins Uber, 'Transparent's' Jill Soloway Calls TV Show a 'Revolution'
It’s only fitting that, as television shifts from Hollywood sideshow to its own main act, its key players would take up some of the awards-season rituals and practices from their counterparts in the movie business.
Take, for example, the scene at the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday evening. Not only did that event rival the Oscars in terms of glitz, hype and production value, but for many presenters and winners the evening’s proceedings offered a platform to air their political views as they handed out or picked up statuettes.
Since this year’s Emmys fell just a handful of weeks before a presidential election, it made sense that the political currents running through American culture would cause a few crackles at the Microsoft Theater in a roomful of professional — and not infrequently political — actors. Host Jimmy Kimmel kicked things off with several election-year zingers in his opening montage, including a visual gag in a pretaped video clip featuring a cameo appearance by former Florida governor and presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who implausibly played an Uber driver working for $12 an hour.
Pulling up to give Kimmel a lift, Bush asked, “Are you nominated?” When Kimmel answered that he was, Bush said, “Wow, what’s that like?” Here’s the whole sketch (via ABC):
As the well-off son of one president, brother of another and, most important, as a lifetime member of the 1 percent, Jeb Bush can afford to make those kinds of jokes.
So, what was he doing at the Emmys? In a word: campaigning. Since poking fun at personal failures with the help of late-night talk show hosts has become a reliable way for politicians to stage a comeback, we can be reasonably sure we haven’t seen the last of Jeb Bush yet.
Kimmel also credited reality TV kingpin Mark Burnett with co-creating not just a relentless entertainment genre but also the Donald Trump phenomenon as we now know it. Reminding the audience that Burnett was “the man who brought us ‘Celebrity Apprentice,’ ” in which Trump has starred, Kimmel delivered what a year or two ago may have come off like a punchline rather than a declaration of fact: “We don’t have to watch reality shows anymore, because we’re living in one.” ABC’s cameras found Burnett in his seat, ready for his close-up, and he grinned like a good sport through the whole riff.
“Veep” star and repeat Emmy-winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus also peppered her victory speech with some jokes made at the GOP nominee’s expense. Accepting the statuette for best actress in a comedy series, Louis-Dreyfus said:
I’d like to take a moment to personally apologize for the current political moment. I think that “Veep” has torn down the wall between comedy and politics. Our show started out as a political satire, but it now feels more like a sobering documentary. So I certainly do promise to rebuild that wall and make Mexico pay for it.
Aside from registering the electoral mood, it was cultural politics, and in particular transgender people’s rights, that commanded the spotlight Sunday evening. “Transparent,” Amazon’s dramedy starring Jeffrey Tambor as a transgender woman, Maura Pfefferman, transitioning in the midst of some highly complicated family dynamics. Tambor’s widely anticipated win for best actor in a comedy series was preceded by “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway’s own success in the category of outstanding director in a comedy series.
From the sound of Soloway’s acceptance speech, not only have the lines between entertainment and politics blurred in the Trumpian sense, as Louis-Dreyfus observed, but also the divide between enacting politics and making entertainment products has become similarly indistinct. In her remarks, Soloway made it clear that for her, making “Transparent” is in itself a political act:
It’s a privilege. And It also creates privilege when you take women, people of color, trans people, queer people, and you put them in the center of the story, the subjects instead of the objects — you change the world, we found out. We found out!
So I want to thank you, my sweet Jeff Bezos, because you change the world, and you invited me to do this thing that these people call television, but I call a revolution.
I’ve always wanted to be part of a movement — the civil rights movement, the feminist movement. This TV show allows me to take my dreams about unlikable Jewish people, queer folk, trans folk, and make them the heroes. Thank you to the trans community for your lived lives — we need to stop violence against transgender women and topple the patriarchy. Topple the patriarchy!
Backstage, Soloway joined the ranks of others before her, from within and outside the entertainment industry, who have compared Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler.
From the stage, “Orange Is the New Black” actress and transgender activist Laverne Cox also signaled her support for colleagues from her community: “Give trans talent a shot,” she said, advising those calling the shots in studios. “I would not be here today if somebody didn’t give me a chance.”
Representation in racial terms provided the punchlines for “Master of None” co-writer Alan Yang, who scored in the comedy writing category with “Master” star Aziz Ansari. Pointing out that there are about the same number — 17 million — of Asian-Americans as Italian-Americans in the U.S., Yang continued, “They have ‘The Godfather,’ ‘Goodfellas,’ ‘Rocky,’ ‘The Sopranos.’ … We got Long Duck Dong. So we got a long way to go.”
Finally, John Oliver showed that there may be hope in the suddenly sparsely populated arena of satirical news fakery after the disappearance of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” “The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore” and “The Colbert Report.” The “Daily Show” alum-turned-HBO-host was awarded top honors in the variety talk series contest. Oliver thanked Stewart for “everything,” and given his mentor’s super-sized stature in those circles, that was hardly an exaggeration.
Read a complete list of Primetime Emmy Awards winners here.