By James Hibberd
September 20, 2020 at 10:10 PM EDT
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Credit: ABC

From jokes to clothing choices to passionate statements, Hollywood's top television talent infused the 72nd annual Primetime Emmy Awards with the current political moment: a period of social re-examination in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and a historic presidential election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden just weeks away. The result was perhaps the most political Emmy telecast ever.

Mark Ruffalo, when accepting his award for Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his portrayal of twin brothers in HBO's I Know This Much Is True, gave a barn-burning of a speech during the virtual ceremony.

"What we have to do today: We have to come together with love for each other," Ruffalo said. "And if we have privilege we have to fight for those who are less fortunate and more vulnerable — and that’s what great about America, our diversity… We are stronger together when we love each other and we respect each other’s diversity. We have a big important moment ahead of us: Are we going to be a country of hatred and division and only for a certain kind of people? Or are we going to be one of love and strength and fighting for all of us to have the American dream and the pursuit of life and love and liberty in this great country for ours? So get out and vote, make a plan, and vote for love and compassion and kindness."

Regina King, who won Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for her heroic role in HBO's Watchmen, wore a T-shirt honoring Breonna Taylor, an EMT fatally shot by police officers in March, emblazoned with the words "Say Her Name." 

"Gotta vote, I would be remiss not to mention that," King said. "Vote up the ballot, please… Rest in power [Ruth Bader Ginsburg]." 

King explained to reporters during a "backstage" interview afterward: "The cops still haven’t been held accountable. She represents just decades, hundreds of years of violence against Black bodies – Breonna Taylor does. Wearing Breonna’s likeness, representing her and her family ... the things, the stories that we were exploring and presenting and holding a mirror up to in Watchmen, it felt appropriate to represent with Breonna Taylor."

Uzo Adubo likewise accepted her award for Mrs. America while wearing a Breonna Taylor shirt. “Let’s go change the world,” she said.

Schitt's Creek showrunner Dan Levy, whose Pop TV comedy series won an incredible seven Emmys on Sunday, urged fans: "Go out and vote because that’s the only way we’re going to have some love and acceptance out there. I’m so sorry for making this political!"

When presenting the award for Outstanding Limited Series, Black-ish star Anthony Anderson led host Jimmy Kimmel in a chant of "Black Lives Matter" (below): "Black stories, Black performances. and Black lives matter. Say it with me, Jimmy! Black Lives Matter! Louder, Jimmy! ... Say it so that Mike Pence can hear it!"

Watchmen showrunner Damon Lindelof dedicated his show's win to the victims and survivors Tulsa Massacre of 1921, a key event in his HBO limited series. "Stop worrying about getting canceled and start asking yourself what you’re doing to get renewed," Lindelof said. "We dedicate this award to the victims and survivors of the Tulsa Massacre. The fires that destroyed Black Wall Street still burn today. The only way to put them out is if we all fight them together." 

Kimmel naturally made some political references as well.

"Of course we don’t have an audience," he said during his opening monologue. "This isn’t a MAGA rally, it’s the Emmys."

Kimmel also had a skit with Barry actor Anthony Carrigan playing a not-very-subtle Russian agent posing as a U.S. mail carrier looking to manipulate mail-in ballots.

At another moment, Kimmel gave a brief tribute to the late Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg before the In Memoriam reel played.  

When accepting her surprise win for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for Euphoria, 24-year-old Zendaya said: "I know this feels like a really weird time to be celebrating, but I just want to say that there is hope in the young people out there. I know that our TV show doesn’t always feel like a great example of that but there is hope in the young people. And I just want to say to all my peers out there doing the work in the streets, I see you, I admire you, I thank you."

The evening was capped with Succession winning Outstanding Drama Series and creator Jesse Armstrong giving a series of un-thank-yous. "Un-thank you to the virus for keeping us all apart this year," he said. "Un-thank you to Donald Trump for his crummy and uncoordinated response. Un-thank you to Boris Johnson and his government for doing the same in my country. Un-thank-you to all the nationalist and quasi-nationalist governments — you're exactly the opposite of what we need right now. And un-thank-you to the media moguls who do so much to keep them in power."

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