Billy Porter Makes History at Emmys

By Heidi Opdyke

With an Emmy Award Sunday night, Billy Porter is one step away from an EGOT.

Porter was one of four Carnegie Mellon University alumni who were recognized at the 71st Emmy Awards on Sunday, Sept. 22 in Los Angeles. The show was broadcast on Fox. At least 16 CMU alumni were nominated in 12 categories this year.

The Tony, Grammy and now Emmy award-winning actor, and 1991 alumnus of CMU’s School of Drama, would now just need an Oscar from the Academy Award to complete an EGOT. But he has already made history with his win for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his work as Pray Tell on FX’s “Pose” as the first openly gay black man to win the award.

“The category is love, y’all, love. I am so overwhelmed and I am so overjoyed to have lived long enough to see this day,” Porter said in his acceptance speech. “James Baldwin said, ‘It took many years of vomiting up all the filth that I had been taught about myself and halfway believed before I could walk around this Earth like I had the right to be here.’ I have the right. You have the right, we all have the right.

“We as artists are the people that get to change the molecular structure of the hearts and minds of the people who live on this planet. Please don’t ever stop doing that,” he said.

Porter won Tony, Grammy and Drama Desk awards for his work on “Kinky Boots” on Broadway.
He is well-versed in using the stage and, more recently, the red carpet to make a statement. He has been hailed as a fashion icon for his gender-fluid looks at this year’s Met Gala, Academy Awards, Golden Globes and Peabody Awards.

During the Tony Awards telecast in June, Porter introduced the 2019 Excellence in Theatre Education Award winner Madeline Michel, a theater teacher from Monticello High School in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Cherry Jones, a 1978 alumna of CMU’s School of Drama, won her second Emmy Award. She won Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her work on Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Jones previously won an Emmy for her supporting role on Fox’s “24.” Jones has won more than a dozen awards including a Tony, Obie and Drama Desk. She was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 2014.

“It means a lot that I get to be June’s mom,” Jones said, referring to Elizabeth Moss’ character in the show. She also referenced another winner of the night — NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory won for NASA TV’s “NASA’s Insights Mars Landing.” The winners encouraged the crowd to consider careers with the organization. “I’m now going to get in touch with my inner nerd and go work for JPL. I want to make movies on Mars!” she said.

Both Porter and Jones also presented Emmy Awards during the evening.

In addition to acting honors, CMU alumni behind the scenes took home awards.

“Our Emmy awardees illustrate the breadth of experience our alumni have, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes,” said Dan Martin, dean of CMU’s College of Fine Arts. “We couldn’t be more proud of their accomplishments and those of all our CFA nominees.”

Eugene Lee, a 1962 alumnus of CMU’s School of Drama, won his fourth Emmy Award for his work in production design on “Saturday Night Live,” and Ryan Tanks, a 2010 graduate of the School of Drama won his second for Outstanding Lighting Design/Lighting Direction for a Variety Special.

The director of “Saturday Night Live,” Don Roy King, also won an Emmy. While not an alumnus, King is a member of CMU’s College of Fine Arts Dean’s Council.

The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences honors individuals for their artistic, educational and technical achievements in the television industry. Emmy Awards recognize excellence in news, sports, daytime, primetime, documentary and international programming. Carnegie Mellon alumni and faculty have received 131 Emmy Awards to date.

Photo Credit: Getty Images