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'Tears of joy': Mj Rodriguez the first trans performer nominated for lead drama Emmy

David Oliver
USA TODAY

Diversity has historically been hard to come by in Hollywood. But the Television Academy made headway with this year's stunning Emmy nominations.

The 2021 nominations, announced Tuesday, sparkled with diversity across drama, comedy and limited series categories, suggesting Hollywood's reckoning with inclusion is paying off.

The biggest triumph of the year? A nod for "Pose" star Mj Rodriguez – now the first transgender performer nominated in a lead drama category. Her turn as Blanca on the FX series wowed critics over the course of three seasons, making her nomination for the series' swan song all the more sweet.

"I felt represented and I felt seen," Rodriguez told the Associated Press. "And ... more accepted than I have felt in a long time. I felt like my colleagues now see me, my acting colleagues see me, and the people who are surrounded by the arts see me, and how much I want to give the world the love to my craft and my art."

Rodriguez, 30, spoke in an interview on Zoom Tuesday from Cannes, France, where she’s attending the film festival. It had been a long night: She hadn’t been able to sleep, in anticipation. "I had a lot looming through my mind,” she said. “I was up until 8 o’clock in the morning."

When the news came, "My mom and my godmother (were) sitting at the dining table. And the moment my name was announced, I just screamed and I broke. And my mom grabbed me. She kind of like flung me around. I gave her a hug. She swung me around a little bit. And I just remember falling into my boyfriend’s arms and just crying. Tears of joy, tears of happiness."

The full list:Emmys 2021: 'The Crown,' 'Mandalorian' top nominees; see all the major categories

"Rodriguez's Emmy nomination for outstanding lead actress in a drama series is a breakthrough for transgender women in Hollywood, and a long-overdue recognition for her groundbreaking performance over the past three seasons of 'Pose,'" GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement.

The biggest triumph of the year? A nod for "Pose" star Mj Rodriguez – now the first transgender performer nominated in a lead drama category.

Rodriguez's nomination comes as the Television Academy loosens its gender rules on trophies. The stars up for trophies on TV's biggest night can opt to forego "actor" and "actress" titles and request their nomination certificates and Emmy statues use the gender-neutral term "performer" instead.

Is this the beginning of the end for "best actor" and "best actress" on television? Possibly. The change comes amid calls for awards bodies to get with the times as more people come out with nonbinary gender identities.

Elsewhere in the drama actress category, Uzo Aduba ("In Treatment") and Jurnee Smollett ("Lovecraft Country") join Rodriguez, making half of the nominees women of color. Last year, Sandra Oh ("Killing Eve") and Zendaya ("Euphoria") were nominated in the category, with Zendaya ultimately nabbing the title.

And four of this year's leading actor in a drama series nominees are Black men: Sterling K. Brown ("This Is Us"), Jonathan Majors, ("Lovecraft Country"), Regé-Jean Page ("Bridgerton") and Billy Porter ("Pose"). 

Who got snubbed? Emmys 2021 snubs: 'Girls5Eva,' Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke and more

Emmy nominations overall impressed on diversity. In part, this could have to do with the many opportunities for new and up-and-coming series and stars to jostle for slots left over from series on hiatus like "Succession" and "Ozark."

Major caveats remain for future inclusion in nominations. "Lovecraft Country" has been canceled after one season. Page will no longer appear in "Bridgerton." As mentioned, "Pose" is now over.

In the comedy arena, "Black-ish" scored nominations for stars Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross as well as best comedy series, though that will end after this upcoming TV season as well.

But Rodriguez's nomination deserves celebration – particularly at a moment as anti-transgender legislation and sentiment cascade across the country. Her legacy will linger no matter who wins and inspire a new generation of transgender talent.

"Live ... work ... pose!" Indeed.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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