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Emmy winner Jharrel Jerome on why black trauma is celebrated at awards shows: “Our pain needs to be told”

The history-making Emmy winner talked about why stories focusing on black pain, like ‘When They See Us,’ are the ones that receive all the accolades.

Emmy winner Jharrel Jerome on why black trauma is celebrated at awards shows: “Our pain needs to be told”
Jharrel Jerome accepts the award for outstanding lead actor in a limited series or movie for When They See Us at the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards. [Photo: Phil McCarten/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images]

Jharrel Jerome’s Emmy triumph last night matched the energy of the overall ceremony, in which historic wins and speeches won the night. The 21-year-old actor, who played Korey Wise in Ava DuVernay’s When they See Us, became the first Afro-Latino and youngest person ever to win an Emmy for lead actor in a limited series or movie. He choked back tears during his acceptance speech as he dedicated his win to the Exonerated Five, the young men wrongly convicted of rape in the early 1990s whose stories are depicted in When They See Us

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The 21-year-old Bronx native of Dominican heritage followed his win with a press interview backstage where he elaborated on what his win meant in the race toward diversity in TV and film. He explained that winning the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series isn’t just about him; it’s also about Afro-Latino visibility. 

“It’s an honor. It’s a blessing, and I hope this is a step forward for Dominicans, for Latinos, for Afro-Latinos. It’s about time we are here,” he said. 

Jerome, who studied acting at the famed LaGuardia High School, answered more questions. One in particular examined how he felt about people of color winning major awards mostly for portrayals of Black trauma. He cited Moonlight, which he appeared in, and 12 Years A Slave as recent examples of the reporter’s point, but added that these stories are necessary. 

“Unfortunately, I think our strongest stories are the stories of pain, considering that’s what we go through on a daily basis, so it is unfortunate that comedies or lighter pieces of work aren’t as praised or aren’t sent to the awards season, especially when it comes to just everything going on, but that is a good question,” he said. “I think the truth is that our pain needs to be told. So if it has to be the next 20 years where we’re just painfully telling our stories until we move on, then I guess it has to be.”

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