Afro-Dominican actor Jharrel Jerome made history at least three times over at the 2019 Primetime Emmy’s when he took home the award for “Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie,” his first-ever win at a major award show, from what was also his first time receiving a nomination. Only 21 years old, this makes Jerome the youngest person to win the award in his category, which in itself is impressive. Even more paradigm-shifting is the fact that he is the only Dominican to have ever won any Emmy in the history of the award show, as well as the only Afro-Latinx actor to do so.
Jerome was the only nominee from Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us to take home a prize on Sunday, in which he played the role of Korey Wise, the exoneree who spent 14 years of his adolescence and young adulthood in prison for a crime that he did not commit. The implications of this win are not lost the young actor, who credited the Exonerated Five for helping him to grow into his role as an artist who has an important story to tell. “I feel like I’m on the basketball team, and they’re on the team with me, and I made that final shot,” he said backstage after winning the award. As for the win itself, he added, “I hope this is a step forward for Dominicans, for Latinos, for Afro-Latinos. It’s about time we’re here.”
Earlier this year, Jerome had told Teen Vogue that being a Dominican from the Bronx is one of his biggest challenges as an actor. “Growing up, this field I’m in was not even in the scope. I didn’t think of wanting to be in movies or on TV. I knew that it looked incredible and it was something that in the back of my mind I was like, Damn, imagine that.” Imagine how feeling seen in the media he was consuming could have shaped his young career… and how his young, newly award-winning career is going to help other Dominican and Afro-Latinx performers in lead roles feel seen for perhaps the first time.
Now that he’s won, he already emphasizing to the world his Dominicano identity. He told GQ that his red carpet appearances — where he gets the high-profile opportunity to showcase his style — are the perfect venues for him to broadcast his Dominican roots. “I want to come off educated and proper and clean and slick but at the same time give off a very strong Dominican, Latin, flavorful vibe,” he explained. “So often I’ll wear slacks that go up to my ankles with no socks and have the loafers on because it’s a very Dominican thing to do.” Asked whether his win would change how he plans to dress at future appearances, he simply said, “No. I’m going to try to be more Dominican.”