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Emerson Alums Telling Peabody-Winning Stories

film poster-red photo of Maria Ressa

More than a half-dozen Emerson alums worked on some of the 30 programs that picked up Peabody Awards the week of June 6-9, 2022.

The Peabodys, awarded by the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, “shine a light on the Stories That Matter and are a testament to the power of art and reportage in the push for truth, social justice, and equity,” according to the webpage. The 82nd annual awards were presented via video and rolled out over the course of the week.

Filmmaker Ramona Diaz’s (’83) documentary, A Thousand Cuts, produced by FRONTLINE, tells the story of Nobel Prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa, who took on authoritarian President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on the news media in the Philippines.

Journalist Christiane Amanpour presented the award, calling A Thousand Cuts “a profile in courage for our time.”

“Ressa’s story is framed by one seemingly simple question: ‘What do you do when the President lies?‘” the Peabodys write. “For its bold answer, we honor A Thousand Cuts with a Peabody Award.”

Allison Davis ’02 was a writer on The Underground Railroad, Amazon Prime Video’s series, adapted from Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Writer and academic Ibram X. Kendi presented the award.

“In Colson Whitehead’s 2016 novel, the figuratively magical network that aided enslaved people in their pursuit of freedom took on a real mythical valence: the miracle of The Underground Railroad was powered by a literal locomotive,” the Peabody Awards writes. “Director Barry Jenkins’s adaptation of Whitehead’s book adds yet another layer of fantastical meaning to the story, approaching its characters and landscape with a stunning reverence and a palpable sense of imagination.”

Megan Mascena ’89 was a producer, and Yamin Segal ’04, a writer, on The Wonder Years, ABC’s reboot of the beloved 1980s show, awarded in the Entertainment category by actress Sheryl Lee Ralph.

“Masterfully altering the comedic premise to expound on the uniqueness of Black American life in the late 1960s—the pilot opens the week Dr. King was killed—the series points out how much there is to overcome, still, in our current time of racial reckoning,” the Peabodys write.

Not only is Joe Mande ’05 a writer and consulting producer on HBO’s Hacks, he also has a recurring role in the series as hotel clerk Ray. Actress/comedian Melissa McCarthy presented the award for the show, which follows the relationship between a veteran female comic (Jean Smart) and a young female writer (Hannah Einbinder).

“For its undaunted look at female aging, the unique relationship between women of vastly different ages and outlooks, and the humor that unites us all, Hacks earns a Peabody.”

Nicholas Caprio ’88 is co-executive producer of the Netflix documentary High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America. “For its cinematic, multidimensional chronicling of Black culinary histories, High on the Hog wins a Peabody Award.”

Singer-songwriter John Legend presented the award.

Giovanni P. Autran ’04 edited the PBS documentary Mr. SOUL!, about the local TV program SOUL! and its creator, Ellis Haizlip. Actor Morgan Freeman presented.  

“In the filmmakers’ hands, Mr. SOUL! respectfully and carefully mines this heretofore neglected, but essential repository of mid-century Black American imagination and creativity, and centers it as indispensable in our understanding and appreciation of American media history,” the Peabodys write.

In 2013, Elaine McMillion, MFA ’13 and Jeff Soyk, MFA ’13 won a Peabody for their documentary Hollow, which examines the economic decline of a rural West Virginia county.

In 2018, the Netflix mockumentary series American Vandal, created by Tony Yacenda ’09 and Dan Perrault ’09 (with Class of 2009 classmates Kevin and Matthew McManus writing) won, for offering up a “surprisingly insightful rumination on contemporary life.”

And in 2017, the Peabodys gave legendary TV writer/producer Norman Lear ’44 an Individual Award for “chang[ing] the face of television – and the faces.”

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