‘Strong Island’ Director Becomes First Black Trans Man to Win Emmy

Yance Ford didn’t just take home an Emmy award this weekend — he also took home a piece of history.

The Strong Island director became the first trans filmmaker to win the prestigious trophy after his film was honored for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking at the Creative Arts Emmys.

Distributed by Netflix, the true-crime documentary is an indictment of the criminal justice system. Following the April 1992 murder of Yance’s brother, William, a New York state jury failed to convict the alleged killer, 19-year-old mechanic Mark P. Reilly. The all-white panel claimed the defendant acted in self-defense.

Ford told the entertainment news website Deadline that Strong Island presents issues of racial bias surrounding his brother’s trial “without any sugarcoating.” The film is intended to ask “who gets to decide what fear is reasonable.”

Even before making history yesterday, Strong Island enjoyed a tidy awards run. The widely acclaimed film was honored with Best Documentary at the Gotham Awards and the Black Film Critics Circle Awards, and won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Storytelling at the Sundance Film Festival.

Ford also became the first trans director to have his film nominated for an Oscar when Strong Island was nominated for Best Documentary at the 2018 ceremony. Instead, the Academy Award went to Icarus, which chronicles the Russian Olympic doping scandal.

But while Ford was the first trans man and the first black transgender person to earn an Emmy award, he was not the first trans Emmy winner.

That milestone likely belongs to Angela Morley, a British composer who took home three Emmy awards between the years of 1985 and 1990. Morley won in the category of Outstanding Music Direction for Christmas in Washington, Julie Andrews: The Sound of Christmas, and Julie Andrews in Concert.

Morley, who also worked on films like Home Alone and Star Wars, was nominated for two Oscars: for The Little Prince and The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella.

She was married to second wife Christine Parker until her 2009 death.

Although information on the history of transgender Emmy winners is limited because many individuals choose to stay in the closet due to fear of discrimination, at least two other trans people are in the exclusive club: lighting designer Michelle Brooke Poley and journalist Evelyn Rios Stafford. They share five trophies between them.

More recently, Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox became the first trans person nominated for an acting Emmy. Although shortlisted twice for Outstanding Guest Actress, she has yet to take home an Primetime Emmy award. 

She did, however, take home a Daytime Emmy for the MTV reality show The T-Word.

Note: This article was updated from a previous version.

Image via Getty


Nico Lang

Nico Lang is a staff writer for INTO, covering news, politics, and global LGBTQ issues.

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