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Emmy Analysis: Outstanding Performance By A Lead Actress In Limited or Anthology Series or Movie

Given that all of this year’s nominees for Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series is led by women, it’s no wonder that the race for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie is one of, if not the, trickiest race this year. Whether it’s a grieving witch, an assault victim, a suburban detective, a musical icon or a chess prodigy, this category is anything but predictable. 

Cynthia Erivo as Aretha Franklin for Genius:Aretha (National Geographic)

Not to be harsh, but if there was one that I feel safe leaving out, it unfortunately would be Cynthia Erivo’s turn as the Queen Of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin. Her pros are pretty obvious, though. Music biopic performances are classic awards bait, Aretha Franklin was just recently portrayed by Jennifer Hudson in the biographical film Respect and Erivo is an Academy Award nominee. Erivo also has won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Musical Performance in a Daytime Program for her performance in The Colour Purple. However, this season of Genius only received the one nomination for Erivo, while the previous seasons of Genius, Genius:Einstein and Genius:Picasso, both received more above the line, including Outstanding Limited Series each. And with Genius:Aretha being the only show in this category not nominated for Outstanding Limited Series, the competition might be too tough for Erivo.

Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff / The Scarlet Witch for WandaVision (Disney+)

Elizabeth Olsen has been playing the role of Wanda Maximoff (or Scarlet Witch) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since 2015 in the film Avengers:Age Of Ultron. But her performance as the character in WandaVision garnered her critical acclaim for her turn as the grief ridden Avenger, portraying the character at her most human. And WandaVision received a whopping 8 nominations above the line, including her costars, Paul Bettany in Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie and Kathryn Hahn for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie. Hahn seems like she’s pretty secure to win, and currently it seems like Bettany might have an edge in his category. Hypothetically, if Bettany wins, that may be a sign of overwhelming support for WandaVision, giving Olsen a good position to win. But, let’s say Bettany loses, that might be a sign that the support for WandaVision above the line will be more geared towards just Hahn and that, because other shows in the category will probably have more love, Olsen might lose out. 

Michaela Coel as Arabella for I May Destroy You (HBO)

I May Destroy You was definitely one of the most buzzed about shows of last year, and the shows creator and star, Michaela Coel, was at the centre of all that. She is in a prime position to win this award. Coel did win the BAFTA award for this (although, not against any of her competition) and the show itself did pick up 6 nominations above the line. With all the respect that Coel and I May Destroy You has gotten, Coel winning an Emmy seems to make perfect sense. Well, unfortunately, Coel has one massive disadvantage that nobody else does. Coel and Anya Taylor-Joy (I’ll get to her) were the only ones who were eligible during the winter awards. Not only was Coel not nominated at the Golden Globes, but she lost the Critics Choice and SAG to Taylor-Joy. And if awarding Coel is the objective here, voters might wanna give it to her in the writing category instead or, the other more unfortunate but ultimately possible outcome, they just don’t award her at all. However, let’s say we had a Zendaya level surprise this year, it would be via Coel. 

So, funny story about our last two nominees. I was forced to quarantine due to an outbreak where I worked back in May. I decided to finally catch up and watch The Queen’s Gambit. I finished it in a day and afterwards I was ready to declare a premature victory for Anya Taylor-Joy. That night, the penultimate episode of Mare Of Easttown aired and immediately I was said out loud “welp, never mind.” That’s when I knew that this category was gonna be trickier than I thought. And if we had to widdle this category down to two women, it’s undoubtedly Anya Taylor-Joy and Kate Winslet.

Kate Winslet as Mare Sheehan for Mare Of Easttown (HBO)

Our first frontrunner is Mare herself, Kate Winslet. Mare Of Easttown picked up 7 nominations above the line and has a serious chance at winning Outstanding Limited Series. And as you undoubtedly know, Winslet is a living legend in the industry. 7 Oscar nominations, including a win, 11 Golden Globe nominations and 4 wins, and 4 Emmy nominations and a win in 2011 for Outstanding Actress in a Limited Series for Mildred Pierce. While Winslet does give a mainly stoic performance, she has her flashy moments to shine as well. And she has an advantage that Taylor-Joy does not: While things are looking very solid for The Queen’s Gambit after the Creative Arts Emmys (I’ll get to that), Kate’s respect in the industry and the love the show received for the nominations could lead her to the win even without Mare Of Easttown cracking the Limited Series win.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon for The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)

And for our second frontrunner, Anya Taylor-Joy seems to have a bit of an opposite trajectory than Winslet, yet equally strong, if not stronger. While she is a newcomer on the scene, she’s been in the spotlight for a couple years now with starring roles in films such as Split and The Witch. But it wasn’t until 2020 when she arguably reached superstardom. For one, her leading performance in the movie Emma., which received her a Golden Globe nomination, and then her role in the hit miniseries The Queen’s Gambit really propelled her fame. Her performance in the show led her to a Golden Globe, a SAG Award, and a Critics Choice Award. And what definitely helps her is that, especially after absolutely dominating the Creative Arts Emmys, leading with 9 wins out of 12 nominations, The Queen’s Gambit has a groundswell of support, which will likely lead to a win for Outstanding Limited Series. And Taylor-Joy can easily go along with that win.

It’s truly a treat to have a category with so many variables. As much as it might feel like a two horse race, an upset here feels more likely here than in any other category. Michaela Coel can definitely provide us with a satisfying upset, but Kate Winselt and Anya Taylor-Joy most certainly have the edge here. There’s always the possibility that the Emmys go harder for Mare Of Easttown above the line given that it’s not as much of a technical marvel as The Queen’s Gambit, but this weekend’s Creative Arts Emmys seems to have put Anya Taylor-Joy in a checkmate position to continue her winning streak.

Prediction: Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit)

Upset: Kate Winslet (Mare Of Easttown)

Preference: Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit)

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Written by Adriano Caporusso

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