Oprah Winfrey accepted the Cecil B DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award (being the first Black Female Awardee) at last Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California and delivered the most profound speech that brought the crowd to its feet, calling out sexual harassers, celebrating Black women and telling young girls that “a new day is on the horizon.”
She blended her story of rags-to-wealth-and-fame into exhortations of press freedom, justice for sexual assault victims and the contributions and sacrifices of maids, farm workers and others. The speech, which has many urging Winfrey to run for president, capped a night of feminist battle cries that rendered the event unrecognizable from past years.
The BBC broke down Oprah’s speech into components of rhetoric: “Personal touch, Statement of purpose, Compelling anecdote, Call to action.”
In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscar for Best Actor at the 36th Academy Awards. She opened the envelope, and said five words that literally made history: “The winner is Sidney Poitier.” Up to the stage came the most elegant man I had ever seen. I remember his tie was white and, of course, his skin was black. And I’d never seen a black man being celebrated like that. And I have tried many, many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door, bone tired from cleaning other people’s houses. But all I can do is quote and say that the explanation in Sidney’s performance in Lilies of the Field, “Amen, Amen. Amen, amen.”
In 1982, Sidney received the Cecil B DeMille Award right here at the Golden Globes, and it is not lost on me that at this moment, there are some little girls watching as I become the first black woman to be given this same award. It is an honor – it is an honor and it is a privilege to share the evening with all of them and also with the incredible men and women who inspire me, who challenge me, who sustain me and made my journey to this stage possible. Dennis Swanson, who took a chance on me for AM Chicago. Quincy Jones, who saw me on that show and said to Steven Spielberg, “Yes, she is Sofia in The Color Purple.” Gayle, who has been the definition of what a friend is. And Stedman, who has been my rock. Just a few to name.
I’d like to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association because we all know that the press is under siege these days, but we also know that it is the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice – to tyrants and victims and secrets and lies. I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, which brings me to this: what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories. Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell. And this year we became the story. But it’s not just a story affecting the entertainment industry. It’s one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics or workplace. So I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue.
They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories, and they work in restaurants, and they’re in academia and engineering and medicine and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They are athletes in the Olympics, and they are soldiers in the military.
And there’s someone else: Recy Taylor, a name I know and I think you should know too. In 1944, Recy Taylor was a young wife and a mother. She was just walking home from the church service she’d attended in Abbeville, Alabama, when she was abducted by six armed white men, raped, and left blindfolded by the side of the road coming home from church. They threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone, but her story was reported to the NAACP, where a young worker by the name of Rosa Parks became the lead investigator on her case. And together they sought justice. But justice wasn’t an option in the era of Jim Crow. The men who tried to destroy her were never persecuted. Recy Taylor died 10 days ago, just shy of her 98th birthday. She lived as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men, but their time is up.
Their time is up. Their time is up. And I just hope – I just hope that Recy Taylor died knowing that her truth, like the truth of so many other women who were tormented in those years and even now tormented, goes marching on. It was somewhere in Rosa Parks’ heart almost 11 years later when she made the decision to stay seated on that bus in Montgomery. And it’s here with every woman who chooses to say, “Me too” and every man, every man who chooses to listen.
In my career what I’ve always tried my best to do, whether on television or through film, is to say something about how men and women really behave, to say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat, persevere and how we overcome. I’ve interviewed and portrayed people who have withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights. So I want all the girls watching here now to know that a new day is on the horizon.
And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say, “Me too” again. Thank you.
You have to understand that none of us can ever be Oprah Winfrey; there will only ever be one. Over the years she has blessed us with so much greatness it’s hard to keep track of all of her accomplishments. Her method of delivering speeches focuses on ‘educating’ and ‘elevating’ her audience.
I have found that she encourages everyone to use their TRUTH to provoke a thought that will, in turn, create CHANGE.
It’s that VOICE that boldly enables me to join in proclaiming: #MeToo.
Last note: I am so ready for Oprah to pick up the mantle and run for the US Presidency. Anything better than who is in the post right now…
The era of The Black Renaissance is NOW!!!!
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Yours in love – The Renaissance Lady ©