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Jharrel Jerome Makes Afro-Latinx History at Emmys

Jharrel Jerome

Jharrel Jerome, a 21-year-old Dominican actor from the Bronx, NY, made history during Sunday night’s Emmys. The breakout star of Ava DuVernay’s cinematic masterpiece “When They See Us” (Netflix) won lead actor in a limited series for his portrayal of Kory Wise, one of the Central Park Five (now referred to as the Exonerated Five). He was also both the youngest winner in that category and the first Afro-Latino to do so.

We often hear of how there aren’t enough Latinos in Hollywood. Tragically, within our widely diverse Latinx community, when we say this it doesn’t usually include Afro-Latinos. In general, we associate our image with a middle-of-the-road Mestizo lens. Jharrel’s win is significant for this very reason. It highlights our need to re-evaluate ourselves, but also reminds us why every bit of effort to get diverse Latinx talent in at every level of production is paramount.

As the greater collective pushes to challenge convention by raising awareness in our storytelling endeavors we can begin to carve out a new type of space. One that allows for a wider range of representation. In doing so, we create a path for the increased richness of culture in our projects, and avoid age-old tropes; like Latinx stars being cast only for the purposes of spicing up a show, (think: Sofia Vergara from ABC’s Modern Family), or characters that are darker in skin tone being relegated to subservient roles (read: every telenovela, ever). We are embedded into every fabric of American society, and deserve to be seen in all the ways we intersect.

The heartbreaking, but redemptive story of the Exonerated Five (E5) is just one example of how the struggles of our mixed communities overlap, and the solidarity that we are capable of in the face of the seemingly insurmountable. Jharrel’s win for his searing performance of Kory, the only member of the group to be sent to Rikers Island as a teen, further vindicates the efforts of everyone who worked on the project. Theirs was a desire not to create “trauma porn,” but rather, to bring Ava’s vision of providing Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise the opportunity to reclaim their voices after they were abruptly stolen from them as boys.

It’s powerful to witness. It also evokes the question: what next? The possibilities are limitless for us, and with a concerted push for disruption in long-held white spaces we could shatter long-held perceptions of colorism and class by green-lighting work that shows off all our shades. Perhaps, Jharrel’s Emmy win is a good place to start.

It would epic.

You can watch Jharrel’s full press room interview courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter, below.

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