Third time was the charm for award-winning actress Viola Davis Sunday evening at the 89th Academy Awards as she took home the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the drama Fences. It was noteworthy in many respects, including the fact that Davis became the first black actress to win an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony for her acting. But in addition to that distinction, her acceptance speech stole the show, mesmerizing her peers (and undoubtedly the viewers around the world) with such heartfelt passion that Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel joked afterward that she was just nominated for an Emmy.
Joke or no, the speech was worthy of an Emmy nod.
As Huffington Post Maddie Crum noted, the Oscar win was expected, but watching Viola Davis win it might have been the most satisfying. Not just for Davis herself, for it was her third well-deserved Oscar nomination, but also for all who experienced her Oscar acceptance speech.
She took the stage Sunday night to accept her Oscar — bunching up her beautiful red dress at her side and holding it so as not to pull a Jennifer Lawrence-like fall — for Best Supporting Actress and quickly had her fellow actors’ attention.
“You know, there is one place where people with the greatest potential are gathered,” she said, emotion filling her voice. “One place. And that’s the graveyard.
“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.”
She 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.”
August Wilson wrote the original play Fences from which the screenplay for the movie was adapted.
Jimmy Kimmel came out following Davis’ speech and said, “Viola Davis just received a nomination for an Emmy for her speech.”
Of course, the line got a laugh, but Kimmel had a point. Twitter lit up with praise and congratulations for the 51-year-old actress, including one from film critic Alissa Wilkinson that gave a nod to Davis’ command of the stage when giving a speech.
And we are getting quite used to Davis giving excellent speeches. Take, for instance, her speech after winning the 2015 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama for her role in ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder. She took on Hollywood with an impassioned speech about opportunity — actually, the lack thereof — for actresses of color.
“‘In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful, white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line, but I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.’ That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something, the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
And how about her introduction of Meryl Streep at the Golden Globe Awards in early January. Of course, Streep’s lengthy speech upbraiding the soon-to-be-president, Donald Trump, became the story of the night, which took nothing away from Davis’ introduction except the attention it truly deserved. Davis told the story of how much she admired Streep and how the actress’s work had inspired her. She also spoke about how, when she had worked with Streep, she had not gotten up the courage to approach her idol and tell her. It was a moving speech/introduction and deserved better than to become a footnote to one of Donald Trump’s thousands of mini-scandals.
And then there was her speech for winning the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama, Musical, or Comedy, also for Fences. She emotionally thanked Denzel Washington, who directed and starred in the movie, for being a great leader and telling her “trust me.” After thanking her husband and daughter for their support, she then turned to her father, Dan Davis, whom she said was the “original Troy” (the character played by Washington, her husband in Fences).
“Born in 1936, groomed horses, had a fifth-grade education, didn’t know how to read until he was 15. But you know what? He had a story, and it deserved to be told. And August Wilson told it.”
Yes, Viola Davis might well deserve an Emmy for any and all of her acceptance speeches. It really was (is) must-see television.
[Featured Image by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP Images]