Jharrel Jerome Becomes the First Afro-Latino to Win Acting Emmy

Actor Jharrel Jerome made history on September 22, becoming the first Afro-Latino and the first Dominican to win an acting Emmy. Jerome dedicated his Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series to the men portrayed in Netflix’s When They See Us.

The Dominican actor portrayed Korey Wise, one of the five innocent Black and Latino boys who were falsely convicted of rape and assault in 1989. The boys, between 14 and 16-years-old at the time, were dubbed the Central Park Five and later, the Exonerated Five.

Wise, the oldest of the five boys, witnessed his friend Yusef Salaam get arrested. According to NBC News, he went to the police station to support Salaam and was later charged. He was later tried as an adult and served 13 years in prison, the longest of the five boys.

When They See Us chronicles how Wise, Salaam, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, and Kevin Richardson were arrested, questioned, coerced into confessions, and incarcerated. The four-part Netflix series spans 25 years and earned 16 Emmy nominations.

The five boys were charged with the brutal rape and assault of a female jogger in New York City’s Central Park. Authorities interrogated the boys for hours without their parents or attorneys present, forcing them to confess.

Jerome thanked the five men and dedicated his historic award to them. “Most importantly, this is for the men that we know as the Exonerated Five,” the 21-year-old said, as the five men celebrated his win with their fists raised high. “This is for Raymond, Yusef, Antron, Kevin, and King Korey Wise. Thank you so much. It’s an honor. It’s a blessing.”

He also thanked his parents and filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who created, co-wrote, and directed the Netflix series. Jerome beat out fellow nominees Hugh Grant (“A Very English Scandal”), Sam Rockwell (“Fosse/Verdon”), Mahershala Ali (“True Detective”), Jared Harris (“Chernobyl”), and Benicio del Toro (“Escape at Dannemora”).

Backstage, Jerome spoke of the excitement of having the Exonerated Five witness his win.

“I feel like I’m on the basketball team and I made that final shot and they’re in the back [cheering],” he said. “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 young actor also acknowledged the importance of his historic win at the Emmys. “It’s an honor,” he told reporters, according to Remezcla. “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.”

Jerome was asked by reporters why it seemed that actors of color only win awards when they portray stories that highlight their struggles, according to ET.

“Unfortunately, I think our strongest stories are the stories of pain, considering that’s what we go through on a daily basis,” he replied. “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.”

Apart from being the first Afro-Latino and Dominican to win an acting Emmy, Jerome also became the youngest person to be awarded an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie.

Jerome was not the only actor to make history at the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards. Actor Billy Porter became the first openly gay Black man to win Best Actor in a Drama for his performance as Pray Tell on the FX series, “Pose.” The Emmy-nominated show is set in the 1980s and depicts New York City’s African American and Latinx LGBTQ community and the gender-nonconforming ballroom culture.

“The category is love, you all. Love. I am so overwhelmed and I am so overjoyed to have lived long enough to see this day. James Baldwin said, ‘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,” Porter said during his acceptance speech.

Porter beat out fellow nominees Sterling K. Brown (“This is Us”), Milo Ventimiglia (“This is Us”), Jason Bateman (“Ozark”), Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”), and Kit Harington (“Game of Thrones”).

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.