Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

Viola Davis’ empowering speech completely stole the show at the 2017 Oscars

viola davis].jpg

It’s been a long time coming, but the incredible Viola Davis has finally walked away with an Oscar, thanks to her critically acclaimed performance in Fences.

This means that the Best Supporting Actress winner, who has been snubbed at the Academy Awards in the past, is the first black actor to ever win an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony for his or her acting skills – and the magnitude of the moment was clearly not lost on Davis, a vocal proponent of diversity on the big screen.

“You know, there is one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered and that’s the graveyard,” she said, as she collected her much-deserved gong.

“People ask me all the time — what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories — the stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition, people who fell in love and lost.”

Read more: A-list fashion from the 2017 Academy Awards

Davis continued, “I became an artist, and thank god I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life. So here’s to August Wilson, who exhumed and exalted the ordinary people.”

Davis plays pragmatic housewife Rose Maxson in Fences, reprising the role that earned her a Tony Award in a Broadway revival of Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

And the actor made sure to praise the playwright behind the film, going on to explain that it was Wilson’s vision which gave us a “movie that is about people, and words, and life, and forgiveness, and grace.”

Read more: La La Land incorrectly announced as Oscars’ best Picture winner over Moonlight

Davis – who is now the most Oscar-nominated black actress in history – also thanked her co-star and director Denzel Washington.

“Oh captain, my captain,” she told the Best Actor nominee, “thank you for putting two entities in the driving seat: August and God. And they served you well.”

Following her speech, celebrities and members of the general public alike took to Twitter to praise her.

“Hallejujah,” wrote Oprah Winfrey, quoting back Davis’ line: “We are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”

“That acceptance speech deserves an Academy Award all in its own,” wrote author Lisa Whelchel. “Astoundingly passionate and poignant.”

Model Nikia Phoenix added: “This win is so long overdue for Viola Davis” – a clear reference to the controversial moment when The Help star lost out on the Best Actress gong to Meryl Streep at the 2012 Oscars.

And the New York Public Theatre added: “We are so proud of this well-deserved win, Viola Davis.”

Read more: The best behind-the-scenes pictures from the 2017 Oscars

Davis has something of a reputation for making powerful awards show speeches.

“You cannot win an Emmy for roles that simply are not there,” she said in 2015 when she became the first black woman to win the award for lead actress in a drama. 

And, at this year’s Golden Globes ceremony, she made headlines for her emotional tribute to her Doubt co-star, Streep.

“You make me proud to be an artist,” she said. “You make me feel that what I have in me — my body, my face, my age — is enough.”

My family. Thank you everyone for your love and support!

A post shared by Viola Davis (@violadavis) on

At the Oscars, Davis also thanked her family, starting with her parents. “The people who taught me good or bad, how to fail, how to love, how to hold an award, how to lose: my parents,” she said. ‘”I’m so thankful that God chose you to bring me into this world.”

She also thanked her sisters and joked that she and her sister Deloris “were rich white women in the tea party games.”

Read more: Emma Stone makes powerful feminist statement on the 2017 Oscars red carpet

And, before thanking the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Davis thanked her husband and daughter.

“You teach me every day how to live, how to love,” she said. “I’m so glad that you are the foundation of my life.”

The Oscars 2017 winners

Best PictureMoonlight

Best Actress: Emma Stone, La La Land

Best Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Fences

Best Supporting Actor: Mahersala Ali, Moonlight

Best Director: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Best Animated Feature FilmZootopia

Best Original Song: City of Stars, La La Land

Images: Rex Pictures


emma stone best actress oscars 2017.jpg

Emma Stone uses Oscars 2017 dress to make powerful feminist statement

Watch Moonlight win over La La Land at the Oscars 2017

Oscars 2017: La La Land incorrectly announced as Best Picture winner


The best behind-the-scenes Instagrams from the Oscars 2017



The best A-list Instagrams from the week so far

From Lupita Nyong'o's dreamy holiday to Lena Dunham's defiant message

by Nicola Colyer
20 Jul 2017

Lana Del Rey is changing her aesthetic because of Donald Trump

"I’m not going to have the American flag waving while I’m singing Born to Die."

by Moya Crockett
20 Jul 2017

BBC ever so politely shuts down backlash over first female Doctor Who

Some “unhappy” viewers contacted the broadcaster about Jodie Whittaker’s casting

by Kayleigh Dray
20 Jul 2017

“I have my demons”: Neelam Gill on racism, modelling and mental health

Stylist’s cover star is outspoken, honest and on the up

by Anita Bhagwandas
19 Jul 2017

Actresses who have braved playing iconic women from history

As Felicity Jones signs up to play Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we take a look at other movie stars who have played real-life legends

by Moya Crockett
19 Jul 2017

Madonna launches legal battle to get her Tupac breakup letter back

The emotional letter was set to go up for auction – but Madonna says it was taken without her consent

by Moya Crockett
19 Jul 2017

Kate Middleton’s honest response to being called “perfect”

The Duchess of Cambridge isn’t here for the myth of perfection

by Kayleigh Dray
18 Jul 2017

Christine Bleakley is over people asking when she’s going to have kids

“Everyone seems to be fascinated by my body clock…”

by Kayleigh Dray
17 Jul 2017

Woman cancels her wedding and invites homeless people to the party

“It’s a great opportunity to spread love.”

by Moya Crockett
17 Jul 2017

“How pathetic sexists tried to tear down the first female Doctor Who”

Misogynists are terrified of Jodie Whittaker and everything she represents

by Kayleigh Dray
17 Jul 2017