Oprah Winfrey became the first black woman to receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes — and her speech put everyone in standing ovation. After an introduction by her co-star in A Wrinkle in Time, Reese Witherspoon, and a daunting montage of her TV and film career highlights, Winfrey offered up an epic acceptance speech that was part history lesson, part inspirational sermon, and part call to action. In other words, it was a speech only Oprah could give.
Winfrey began by sharing a formative childhood memory: Watching Sidney Poitier become the first black actor to win an Oscar in the Best Actor category in 1964 (for Lilies of the Field). “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,” she said. She thanked those little girls in the audience (“It is an honor and it is a privilege to share the evening with all of them”), along with some of the people who were instrumental in her success, including Quincy Jones (who recommended her to Steven Spielberg for her Oscar-nominated role in 1982’s The Color Purple) and her best friend, Gayle King.
Then Winfrey pivoted to talking about the MeToo and Time’s Up movements, a major topic on an evening when attendees were almost universally wearing black in solidarity against discrimination and sexual harassment. “What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have,” she said. “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,” she continued. “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.”
After acknowledging that women endure abuse in every field and walk of life, Winfrey told the story of a woman who fought abuse against impossible odds: Recy Taylor. In 1944, Taylor, an African-American woman living in Alabama, was kidnapped while walking home from church and raped by six white men. For years, Taylor fought to bring her attackers to justice — and while the men were never punished, her resilience inspired others in the civil rights movement, including a young Rosa Parks. (Taylor’s story is told in the 2017 documentary The Rape of Recy Taylor.)
“Recy Taylor died 10 days ago, just shy of her 98th birthday,” Winfrey said. “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 dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up.”
While the cameras panned to celebrities leaping to their feet, applauding, and crying, Winfrey brought it home.
“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,” said Winfrey. “It was somewhere in Rosa Parks’s 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 who chooses to listen.”
As she concluded her speech, Winfrey shared an inspirational lesson from her incomparable career. “I’ve interviewed and portrayed people who’ve withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you,” she said, “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.”