Emmys 2017: Delivering issue narratives right into your audience’s living rooms

September 19, 2017  |  Activism

This past Sunday marked the 69th annual Primetime Emmy Awards. Winners across a variety of categories showed us that television is pushing issue-based narratives, and that viewers and critics are paying attention.

In a surprise cameo, Chance the Rapper challenged audiences: “I love television, it’s a pleasant distraction/But just imagine taking action…”

At AndACTION, this is exactly what we aim to achieve: to challenge activists and organizers to use Emmy-winning stories to reach new audiences and advance their campaign goals. As each winner took to the stage to accept his or her award, the importance of inclusive storylines and the societal impact of pop culture remained a common thread among speeches. The night ended with Bruce Miller, producer of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” winner in the Outstanding Drama Series category, reminding his peers and viewers that “We have a lot of things to fight for.” Many of this year’s award winners and nominees will be renewed for additional seasons, and many of them are likely to address the social issues your organization cares about most.

Take a look:

(Issues addressed: Gender equality, equal pay, women in government)

Selina Meyer may not be on any list of pop culture role models of women in leadership roles, but “Veep” does highlight and satirize the challenges that women in positions of power face in politics and in business. The show touches on issues of equal pay, double standards for men and women and the gender discrimination in politics and on the campaign trail. Organizations can use the show to call attention to the all too real depictions of how Washington really gets things done (or doesn’t).


Orange is the New Black”
(Issues addressed: Bigotry around race, LGBTQI, mental health, prison reform, private prisons)

Organizations working on a wide range of issues can leverage the popularity of “OITNB” in their outreach by contributing to the conversation on social media, generating memes, organizing viewing parties with related discussion guides, or penning op-eds or blogs (such as this one).


The Handmaid’s Tale”
(Issues addressed: Nuclear war, LGBTQI, reproductive rights, rape/sexual assault, police brutality, civil and human rights, free speech/right to protest, voting rights)

Nuclear and biological warfare has polluted the world, so the population suffers a sharp decline in births and a rise in birth defects. An authoritarian government has risen and imposed martial, theocratic law. In early March, Margaret Atwood wrote an essay for The New York Times (which also appears as a foreword in the latest edition of the book the show is based on) explaining her thoughts on the connection between her novel and the political climate in the U.S. and around the world. Groups working on issues from nuclear war prevention (timely!) to voting rights and women’s health access can use the upcoming season of the show to start important conversations. Be prepared to write blogs pivoting to your work, using the series as a way to amplify the importance of policies that protect people and the environment. Social media always explodes during this show – find someone on your staff to watch and report back all the best moments you can use.


This Is Us”
(Issues addressed: Family caregiving, body image, eating disorders, adoption)

Organizations focused on family support and caregiving of children, maternal and infant health, obesity and body image issues will find sympathetic plotlines in “This Is Us.” Organizations focusing on adoption can use the series as an opportunity to spur social media conversation around the challenges of adoption of children of color.


(Issues addressed: Mental health, LGBTQI, Feminism)

Previously, in a campaign for the show’s first Emmy, gender-neutral stickers with the hashtag #BeTransparent were placed on the doors of single-stall bathrooms in restaurants around Los Angeles to encourage them to transition from being gender specific to gender neutral. Jill Soloway has hinted that Season four will be ”more political” and will address the increase in LGBTQI discrimination in the Trump era. To help others understand the different ways transgender people are being affected in this political landscape, consider repurposing the show’s hashtags in your current campaigns around discrimination against people who are transgender. You can also use the show’s themes to create policy briefs that explain local and/or federal laws that discriminate against LGBTQI individuals.


Master of None”
(Issues addressed: Race, LGBTQI, reproductive rights)

Season two of “Master of None” takes on a multitude of issues, and opportunities exist for diverse organizations – the show does not shy away from hard conversations, especially those pertaining to race, sexual orientation, religion, gender and sexual assault.


(Issues addressed: Race, LGBTQI)

No matter the issue, “Black-ish” offers a multitude of opinions with a variety of entry points for all kinds of viewers, whatever their location, background or race. The show gets its palpable and engaging energy from debates, not necessarily from resolution, and prefers to come at any topic from different angles so that most people can relate and feel engaged, and not be turned off.


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
(Issues addressed: Race, LGBTQI, reproductive rights)

Nonprofits working on racial injustice in the U.S., inequality in our healthcare system and on ongoing race relations may be able to use story to echo data and research – a great way to bring dimension to your work and make it accessible to broader audiences. Organizations who study the social determinants of health can live-tweet during the broadcasts to explain the history of health inequities based on race and place.

When you’re done congratulating nominees/winners on social media (or finished wrapping your head around Sean Spicer’s unexpected post-White House debut…), get in touch with us for help integrating any of these shows into your strategic communications. We’re here to help and excited to find innovative ways to make pop culture work for social change!

Alina R. Evans is a senior account executive at Spitfire.