Only One Black Woman Has Won Lead Comedy Actress Emmy — Will Quinta Brunson Break the 42-Year Shut Out With ‘Abbott Elementary?’

“I am Black woman; hear me roar!”

The hilarity of Black women on television has been sorely missed and ignored by the Television Academy over multiple decades. However, this year’s slate of outstanding lead and supporting comedy actress seem to be the two spots preventing an #EmmysSoWhite moment from occurring.

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Quinta Brunson is the front-runner to win her first acting Emmy for her charming turn as Janine Teagues, the optimistic 2nd-grade teacher from ABC’s “Abbott Elementary.” With a beautiful sophomore season in the books and the added benefit of Jean Smart being out of the competition for “Hacks,” she seems perfectly aligned with the Emmy cosmos to land much-deserved recognition. The possible recognition would be long overdue for Black comedians on television.

Isabel Sanford -- The Jeffersons -- Emmy win 1981
PASADENA, CA – SEPTEMBER 13: Actress Isabel Sanford attends the 33rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on September 13, 1981, at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California

In lead actress comedy, only seven Black women have been nominated since its inception in 1966 — Diahann Carroll (“Julia”), Isabel Sanford (“The Jeffersons”), Nell Carter (“Gimme a Break!”), Phylicia Rashad (“The Cosby Show”), Tracee Ellis Ross (“Black-ish”), Issa Rae (“Insecure”) and the Brunson above. Sanford is still the only Black woman ever to win the category back in 1981.

Brunson made history at last year’s Emmys when she became the first Black woman nominated for outstanding comedy series, lead actress and writing in the same year. Additionally, 32 at the time, Brunson became the youngest Black woman ever nominated for lead comedy actress.

Notable, Brunson’s co-star Sheryl Lee Ralph became the second Black woman to win supporting comedy actress for “Abbott” following Jackée Harry from “227” in 1987.

Other hilarious women in the mix are scattered from new and established series.

Kerry Washington is brilliant as Paige Alexander, a marriage therapist and social media influencer who reconnects with her father (Delroy Lindo) following being released from prison in Hulu’s comedy “Unprisoned.” Despite being an Emmy winner (for outstanding variety special for “Live in Front of a Studio Audience: ‘All in the Family’ and ‘Good Times'”), she’s never won for acting despite noms for the limited series “Little Fires Everywhere,” the TV Movie “Confirmation” and the drama series “Scandal.” The series is a vital and complicated role that we haven’t seen from her before, that she anchors with heart and sincerity. The TV Academy could find it intriguing enough to check her name off.

And then there are the underappreciated performers still hoping for recognition after multiple seasons and years in the biz, including Robin Thede from HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show” and Meagan Good from Prime Video’s “Harlem.”

It’s also worth mentioning Maya Rudolph’s funny work in Apple’s “Loot,” Folake Olowofoyeku’s sweet turn from CBS’ “Bob Hearts Abishola” and Chanté Adams’ talented swings in Prime Video’s “A League of Their Own.”

Emmy submissions are due on May 9.

Lead Comedy Actress prediction on April 28, 2023

And the Predicted Nominees Are:

  1. Quinta Brunson — “Abbott Elementary” (ABC)

  2. Natasha Lyonne — “Poker Face” (Peacock)

  3. Rachel Brosnahan — “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Prime Video)

  4. Elle Fanning — “The Great” (Hulu)

  5. Bridget Everett — “Somebody Somewhere” (HBO)

  6. Jenna Ortega — “Wednesday” (Netflix)

Next in Line

  1. Christina Applegate — “Dead to Me” (Netflix)

  2. Selena Gomez — “Only Murders in the Building” (Hulu)

  3. Kerry Washington — “Unprisoned” (Hulu)

  4. Robin Thede — “A Black Lady Sketch Show” (HBO)

Other Top-Tier Possibilities

  1. Amy Schumer — “Inside Amy Schumer” (Paramount+)

  2. Natasia Demtriou — “What We Do in the Shadows” (FX)

  3. Maya Rudolph — “Loot” (Apple TV+)

  4. Tatiana Maslany — “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” (Disney+)

  5. Ana Gasteyer — “American Auto” (Peacock)

  6. Heléne Yorke — “The Other Two” (HBO)

  7. Cecily Strong — “Schmigadoon!” (Apple TV+)

  8. Linda Cardellini — “Dead to Me” (Netflix)

  9. Devery Jacobs — “Reservation Dogs” (FX)

  10. Rose McIver — “Ghosts” (CBS)

A version of this prediction commentary first appeared in Variety Awards Circuit section on April 28. Visit awards prediction archives for more.


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