As expected, Viola Davis won the best supporting actress Oscar for her role in “Fences.” As soon as she took the stage, everyone knew we were in for a heck of a speech.
“You know, there is one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered and that’s the graveyard,” a teary-eyed Davis began. “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.”
“I became an artist and thank God I did,” she continued “because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”
Davis played Rose Maxson in “Fences,” reprising the role that earned her a Tony Award (her second) in a Broadway revival of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play.
In her acceptance speech, Davis said that Wilson “exhumed and exalted the ordinary people.” She also thanked her co-star and director Denzel Washington. “Oh captain, my captain,” she told Washington, “thank you for putting two entities in the driving seat: August and God. And they served you well.”
She was previously nominated for her supporting role in the 2008 film “Doubt” and for best actress for the 2011 film “The Help.”
As noted by Washington Post reporter Dan Zak, the win makes Davis the 23rd member of an exclusive group of actors who have won a competitive Emmy, Tony and Oscar for performance. Davis is also the first African American to earn that distinction, as well as the first African American actress to receive three Oscar nominations.
As she has garnered critical acclaim for her stage, film and television performances, Davis has also earned 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. At this year’s Golden Globes ceremony, she gave an emotional speech while accepting her first Globe statuette for “Fences.” But she also made a splash for her remarks during a tribute to Meryl Streep.
“You make me proud to be an artist,” she told Streep, her co-star in “Doubt.” “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.”
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.”
“Viola Davis just won an Emmy for that speech,” host Jimmy Kimmel joked after he returned to the stage.