On Sunday September 22nd, 21-year-old actor Jharrel Jerome made history by becoming the first Afro-Latino to win an Emmy for acting. Jerome took home the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his role in When They See Us and he was also the only Hispanic winner of the night.
Jerome played Korey Wise in Netflix’s When They See Us, which centers on the Exonerated Five. Wise, Antron McCay, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson and Yusef Salaam were all at the awards show, and gave Jerome a big standing ovation when he won his award. When asked about having the Exonerated Five there to see him win he replied:
“I feel like I’m on the basketball team and I made that final shot and they’re in the back [cheering]. I felt like I was in a championship game, and we went through our final hurrah…. Thirty years ago they were sitting in a prison cell, falsely incarcerated, and today they’re in suits styled by designers for the Emmys.”
The series documented the arrests, interrogations, coerced confessions and eventual incarcerations of the five innocent Black and Latino men who had been falsely accused of a 1989 rape and assault when they were between the ages of 14 and 16, also plastered with the label Central Park Five.
Backstage Jerome was asked why people of color seem to win awards only for stories that detail their struggles in which Jerome replied: “Unfortunately, I think our strongest stories are the stories of pain, considering that’s what we go through on a daily basis. Our pain needs to be told, so if it has to be for the next 20 years we’re just painfully telling our stories until we move on, then it has to be.”
In addition to being the first Afro-Latino and Dominican to win an Emmy, Jerome is also the youngest person to win in his category. Before “When They See Us,” he was best known for starring in Barry Jenkin’s “Moonlight,” which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2017.
During his speech Jerome thanked his family, as well as filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who created, co-wrote and directed the four-part series, “When They See Us”, which spans 25 years, earning 16 Emmy nominations. “This is for Raymond, Yusef, Antron, Kevin and King Korey Wise. Thank you so much.” he said. “It’s an honor. It’s a blessing.”