The 74th Emmy Awards nominations were announced in a live virtual ceremony, and out of the 45 directors nominated this year, only 12 women were selected.
Among them was the talented director Bridget Stokes, who received her first Emmy nod for Best Variety Series Director. She nabbed the nomination for the third season’s premiere episode of “A Black Lady Sketch Show” (ABLSS) entitled “Save My Edges, I’m a Donor!”
Created by Robin Thede, ABLSS airs on HBO, and this year marks its third consecutive nomination for Best Variety Sketch Series. The show prides itself on being the “first sketch show to have featured an all-Black women writers room and all-Black women cast,” and made history in 2020 when Dimonique “Dime” Davis became the first Black woman to receive a primetime Emmy nomination for direction of a variety series.
With her nomination, Stokes has built upon the legacy of her predecessor. Notably, Stokes directed all six of the episodes from Season 3 of ABLSS, and divulged that she was tapped once again to direct the fourth season.
Stokes seemed ecstatic, even over Zoom, as she sat down with ESSENCE to discuss her journey to becoming an Emmy-nominated director and how being a Black woman impacts her approach to directing ABLSS.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
ESSENCE: What was it like getting the call that you were nominated? Was it something you expected?
It was absolutely not something I expected! It was really astonishing! It was such an honor. I was driving in the car with my brother, and I got a call from Robin Thede, and [she] was just screaming, so I started screaming because I thought I knew why we were screaming, and then she said, “We’re a nominee! There’s five nominations! You’re nominated for [Director],” and it was just one of the coolest experiences, that I never thought would happen.
ESSENCE: How does being a Black woman impact your approach to directing?
For me, representation is really important, and it’s one of the reasons why I was so excited about getting the job and doing this show. I think one of the things that’s so exciting about “A Black Lady Sketch Show” beyond making people laugh is that you get to see Black women as main characters, and heroes of every story, and it’s particularly important because there’s a lot of genres where we still have Black women underrepresented.
We get to do action, we get to do horror, we get to do thrillers, and we get to do period pieces, and Black women are the star of the show every time. For me that was key and essential in taking this job, because when I sign on to anything, I want to be able to care deeply about it, and one of the things that was just the extra icing on the cake is that I get to do comedy that I love, and tell stories, which I love to do. But we also get to further this representation, which is so important.
ESSENCE: What was your creative process like while directing, and how are you creating this environment where actors can thrive during such an improv heavy show?
I have to give credit to everyone who came before so there were already two incredibly funny, incredibly well done, Emmy-nominated seasons. Robin Thede as a creator, and all of the producers and writers and people involved in the show had laid this baseline that was really incredible…which is sort of a dream because you’re building on what’s there and have such a strong foundation, then I was really able to dive in. My process became really talking through with Robin Thede and getting the tenor of what had been discussed in the writers room, [and] what was behind each story. What did the interstitials look like and how did they build on seasons one and two?
I think to answer your question, how did we get to the really fun improv? It’s really important for us to get the words right. The writers have spent so much time crafting these really funny short stories, and we want to make sure we get that. Then, it’s about relying on the cast and the guest actors, [who] were all incredibly talented and had such deep experience…So really, and I’ve said it before, the biggest challenge with the improv was all of the crew standing behind the camera, not trying to ruin the take by laughing. That was really a joyful part of the whole experience.
ESSENCE: Expounding on that, can you tell me about your most memorable experience directing this season?
Oh, gosh. I think the most memorable was directing “Product Purge.” It was the biggest and the most epic sketch that we had conceived, and we had a day and a half to shoot it which is unprecedented. We really [usually only] have a day or half-day to shoot most of these sketches. We took over a whole neighborhood, we had several stunts, we had all of our core cast, I think we had seven plus guest actors. Even though the premise was simple– what if you could return all your unused products from the year and get all your money back. I think anyone can relate to that. It would be a lot of money for most of us, but we made it into this battle. These women are warriors trying to get to that counter and get their cash back, and I think playing with this, and making sure all the stunts went off and that the core cast, our background actors, and all of our guest actors felt supported even though they’re more than 100 people in the frame, and [making sure that] everyone felt that we were doing this together was the most memorable I think for me. It’s one of the things I’m very proud of from this season.
ESSENCE: So, what’s next up for you?
Season four of “A Black Lady Sketch Show!” I am living the dream. Yes, I get to go back, and play more and more and more. We get to laugh and laugh and laugh, and you know what could be better? I just hope people watch!
The fun thing about this has been people reaching out to me and saying they watched the show for the first time and they’re in love with it. I think one of the common misconceptions is because it’s called “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” people feel like they don’t have an entry point, and that’s ridiculous. It’s funny for everybody. So, I hope more and more people watch the show because it’s truly excellent, and I’ve been a fan since long before I was working on it.