Legendary actress, choreographer, and producer Debbie Allen was honored with The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ prestigious Governors Award during the 73rd Annual Emmy Awards Ceremony on Sunday Night.

Actress Jada Pinkett Smith, director and producer Ava Duvernay, actress Ellen Pompeo, and actor Michael Douglass helped present the honor to Allen in recognition of her lifetime of work on projects such as Fame, A Different World, and countless others. 

“Thank you to my friends for being here,” she told them, noting that Smith, in particular, had kept the secret of her attendance while Allen was attending her 50th birthday skate party. 

“I am trembling with gratitude and grace and trying not to cry,” she said, holding back tears while accepting her honor. “It has taken a lot of courage to be the only woman in the room most of the time. Thank you for this glorious moment in the sun.”

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ board of Governors grants the annual award to an “individual for outstanding achievement in the arts and sciences which is either of a cumulative nature or so extraordinary and universal in nature as to go beyond the scope of the Emmy Awards presented in the categories and areas of the competition,” according to their site. 

Allen was selected for her “unprecedented achievements in television and her commitment to inspire and engage marginalized youth through dance, theater arts, and mentorship.” Allen has even choreographed the Emmy Awards Ceremony itself an impressive 10 times.

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After jokingly instructing producers to turn off the time clock on her acceptance speech as she had no plans to pay it any attention, she continued on. 

“I share this honor with so many people…everyone who has given me the opportunity to BE Debbie Allen; those who understand me and have supported everything I try to do.”

Allen went on to thank multiple people who had helped her pursue numerous philanthropic endeavors over the years, including the late basketball legend Kobe Bryant.

As her career has inspired so many before, Allen expressed hope that her reception of this honor would inspire women worldwide to let their voices be heard amid injustice. 

“Let this moment resonate with women across the world, from Texas to Afghanistan,” she said. “It is time to claim your power, claim your voice.”
In addition to this high honor from the Academy, Allen is the most Emmy-decorated Black woman, with a total of 21 nominations and five wins under her belt. She won two of those Emmys just this year for her work on Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square.