If you have not seen Oprah Winfrey’s Cecil B. DeMille Award acceptance speech, you owe it to yourself to pull it up and check it out. She talked about the victimization of women in her speech and how it’s end is clearly in view– thanks to those who have decided not to stay quiet and to bring their abusers into the light. It was compelling. To make it easy, we’ve embedded a video of the speech below, and for the possibly hearing-impaired, a full transcript of her speech follows it.
After the award show was over, the weigh-in on her comments was singularly positive, with some calling for the Queen to consider a run for the presidency. misconduct is the unique province of men who feel entitled to abuse the world’s women. Black men, white men, yellow, brown and red men– despite the vast differences in geography and culture, all have managed to keep one thing in common: a mutual disrespect for their women.
Women are wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, cousins, nieces, co-workers and friends. They are in number more than half of the world’s population, and they are routinely disrespected, molested and abused simply for being women.
As a person of color born and raised in America, I understand the predicament of being afflicted solely because of the circumstances of one’s birth. Blacks have been this nation’s disposable population since the slave ships first docked with their captured human cargo many centuries ago. As hated and despised as blacks were, when the 15th Amendment was passed by the Senate on February 26, 1869 (the House of Representatives passed it one day earlier), it gave to black “citizens” (translated: men) the right to vote, but no thought whatsoever was given to extending the right to women.
Make no mistake about it– the amendment was only the harbinger of change. Actual change was still a long time coming. It took almost 100 years after ratification of the amendment for black men to overcome the demeaning effects of poll taxes, literacy tests and other means of disenfranchisement to actually cast a ballot, but the fact that women had to forcefully protest for another 50 years (until 1920) for the legislative nod to vote testifies to their then-very low ranking on the political totem pole.
There is no comparison to the cruelty, brutality and violence visited upon blacks (or Native Americans) when the question of women’s rights is brought to bear, but when it comes to white men, historically, the disdain and contempt blacks endured in this land– insofar as equal rights were concerned— were equally visited upon women.
Abigail Adams reminded her husband John during the Constitutional Convention to “Remember the Ladies!” Soon-to-be-President John Adams didn’t listen to her then, and the many Johns that followed didn’t listen to their women either. In 1837, a woman named Sarah Grimke wrote that “men and women were created equal” and that “whatever is right for men to do is right for women,” but men never saw it that way.
Feminists soon realized that many people felt women neither should nor could be equal to men. Women have historically been considered intellectually inferior to men. They have been viewed as a major source of temptation and evil. From Eve to Pandora, man’s view of women has been negative and dark.
St. Jerome, a 4th-century Latin father of the Christian church, said: “Woman is the gate of the devil, the path of wickedness, the sting of the serpent, in a word a perilous object.” Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century Christian theologian, said that woman was “created to be man’s helpmeet, but her unique role is in conception . . . since for other purposes men would be better assisted by other men.” [Women’s History in America].
With such descriptors governing western religious thought, small wonder nearly every man alive in America grew up with such a limited and negative view of womankind. Barefoot and pregnant and under constant watch seemed to be the general consensus of the early leaders of the Christian church.
Women bought into their perceived lower status. A middle-class girl in Western culture learned early on from her mother’s example that cooking, cleaning, and caring for children was expected of her as she grew up. She was forced to endure the sexual advances and mistreatment by men without much in the way of recourse. Her sexuality– not her intellect– was the only thing men seemed to respect. It was simply her lot in life.
It was so bad in the early days of the United States, that a man essentially owned his wife– and his children– like he owned his pig or cow, and if a poor man chose to send his children to the poorhouse, their mother could not legally object.
Sexual misconduct of the sort that has made the headlines in recent years will come to an end, because men in power fear the public exposure that is sure to happen today, and the accompanying loss of income, status and prestige. But crimes against women will continue as long as men are willing to pay to sexually abuse them. Human trafficking is the larger issue. It needs the same kind of attention.
Oprah’s speech was timely if perhaps a bit surprising. I mean, her references to Sidney Poitier’s being the first black man to receive the award, and her own special status as the first black woman to join him, were somewhat expected. No one expected the historicity of the moment to be ignored. But her focus on the new day of empowerment among women, was pleasantly surprising. Her approach to the subject was hopefully reassuring to young girls all over America that they won’t have to put up with sexual misconduct during their lifetimes.
She spoke about a woman named Recy Taylor, who was raped and beaten by six white men back in 1944– men who were never prosecuted. But not every abuser of women was white. In my own life my mother was once beaten by a black man who, though he paid for his transgression, left me permanently impacted, so that I cannot abide or stomach a man who physically abuses women.
I got the sense during her speech, that Winfrey is also ticked by the thought. Her speech was passionate. Her words echoed around the four walls of the room, bringing tears to many, and causing many of those who listened to suggest that maybe the Queen should be President. Support for the idea is growing.
When asked about the possibility, Trump said he’s not worried. ‘I’ll beat Oprah,’ he said in a White House meeting held Tuesday.
If it’s in her to do, I hope she runs. I’d vote for her. After all, she certainly has every qualification for president that Donald Trump has– she has “Trump money” (for those who think being a billionaire helps understand job creation), and she has all her mental faculties (for those who think the President should be sane).
Below is the full transcript of Oprah’s speech.
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 tried 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’ve inspired me, who’ve challenged me, who’ve sustained me and made my journey to this stage possible. Dennis Swanson who took a chance on me for A.M. Chicago. Quincy Jones who saw me on that show and said to Steven Spielberg, “Yes, she is Sophia in The Color Purple.” Gayle, who’s been the definition of what a friend is and Stedman, who’s been my rock. Just a few to name.
I’d like to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, because we all know 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—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’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our 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 a 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’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—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. And I’ve interviewed and portrayed people who’ve 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 and 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.