But none of those other presenters or winners were Oprah. As the highlight reel of her accomplishments made clear, she’s important in many different spheres. But all of her empires were built on this unshakable foundation: She’s a master broadcaster. She connects.
In her speech, she painted a picture of herself as a young girl, awed by “elegant” award-winner Sidney Poitier, who was honored at a Golden Globes broadcast she saw decades ago. She tied that vision to the prospect of young girls today seeing her get her DeMille Award — and being the first African-American woman to do so.
And in a heartbreaking, necessary way, she brought a new name to the collection of stories every single one of us need to know.
Briefly, eloquently, she told the story of Recy Taylor, a woman who brought her brutal rape case to the attention of NAACP officials — including Rosa Parks, who investigated the crime.
“Recy Taylor died 10 days ago,” Winfrey said. “She lived too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. Women were not believed.”
That time is over, Oprah told us, and when Oprah tells you a thing, you want to believe it. More work needs to be done, as Oprah pointed out, in factories, in offices, in science labs, on film and TV sets. She was clear about the fact that this movement is in its beginning stages, not at an end. But when she paid tribute to the power of the press to tell the truth, when she celebrated people — many of them women — who told their stories, and when she talked about the justice Recy Taylor didn’t get, it was hard to think about these things as abstractions. I don’t know about you, but Oprah made me feel these things in a cathartic way.
I tried not to cry during her speech, I really did. But I lost that battle as she neared the close of Taylor’s story. Taylor died after living a long life, a life she built after going through something unthinkable. Being recalled and celebrated by one of the most famous women in the world — it wasn’t justice, but it was something. It was certainly something.
In a room full of master storytellers, Oprah showed them all how it was done. Oprah united the famous and the unknown, the powerful and the powerless, the farm worker and the film star.
As she built to the close of her speech, with the crowd on their feet, Oprah told those who oppress and bully and assault that their time was up.
Time will tell if she was right. Maybe she won’t be; maybe the entire night was all so much well-orchestrated, well-intentioned theater. But in that moment, it felt like having Oprah on the side of the avenging army of women would make the movement unstoppable.
We can only hope.
In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee watching Anne Bancroftpresent 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 ever remembered. His tie was white, his skin was black — I’d never seen a black man being celebrated like that. I’ve tried 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 [is] 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 have inspired me, who challenged me, who sustained me and made my journey to this stage possible. Dennis Swanson, who took a chance on me for “A.M. Chicago,” waw me on the show and said to Steven Spielberg, “Yes, she’s Sophia in ‘The Color Purple;’” Gayle, who’s been the definition of what a friend is; and Stedman who’s been my rock – just to name a few.
I want to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association because we know the press is under siege these days. We also know it’s 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, engineering, 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 mother 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 prosecuted. 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 dare speak the 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’ 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. 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, 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. Thank you.