Jerome received the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his work playing one of the so-called Exonerated Five, a group of Black and Latino teenagers who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman jogging in New York City’s Central Park in 1989.
With his win, the 21-year-old became the first Afro-Latino to win an acting Emmy.
In his speech, Jerome honored his “beautiful mother,” whom he brought to the ceremony, and DuVernay. He then named each of the five exonerated men, who were also in attendance Sunday night and who had spent years behind bars. Their convictions were vacated in 2002.
“That’s a loaded question,” said Jerome, who identifies as Afro-Latino and Dominican American. “But it’s an honor, it’s a blessing, and I hope this is a step forward for Dominicans, for Latinos, for Afro-Latinos. It’s about time we are here.”
He was reportedly the only Latinx winner on Sunday evening.
Jerome, who grew up in the Bronx, also became the youngest ever to win in his acting category. (The Television Academy, which produces the Emmy Awards, noted to HuffPost that Anthony Murphy was only 17 years old when he won in 1973 for “Tom Brown’s Schooldays,” which was a limited series. But category titles have changed since then: Murphy’s win was in a category called Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.)
Jerome did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Actor Billy Porter joined Jerome in breaking barriers on Sunday, becoming the first openly gay Black man to win as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama, for his role in the FX series “Pose.”
Backstage, Jerome was also asked about the academy often giving awards to stories about Black people’s struggles rather than their joys. Of the Exonerated Five, Wise ― whom Jerome called “King Korey Wise” in his acceptance speech ― spent the most time in prison.
“Unfortunately, I think our strongest stories are the stories of pain considering that’s what we go through on a daily basis. It is unfortunate that comedies or light pieces of work aren’t as praised and aren’t sent to the award season,” Jerome said. “The truth is our pain needs to be told. So if it has to be for the next 20 years where we are just painfully telling our stories until we can move on, then I guess it has to be.”
This article has been updated with comment from the Television Academy on Anthony Murphy’s 1973 Emmy win.