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

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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


Share this article


Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.