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Viola, the Speech of The Night

Chris here. That shockeroo at the end of the night wasn’t the evening’s only fireworks. But the kind of awe I’m thinking recalling is the kind that we watch the Oscars for: the acceptance speeches. Viola Davis’s in particular.

Viola’s Fences win was already such a forgone conclusion (as you may have heard during our Smackdown) that the lead-up to her category felt the tiniest bit underwhelming, in a way that it mightn’t have been if *ahem* she’d been nominated in Lead. But forgive me, readers, for momentarily losing sight that the best part of the Oscars has everything to do with after the name is called: the speech. Hers was the speech we were waiting for, both for the actress herself and as people who relish in awards speeches.

And was it ever one for the ages, sober and uplifting while recalling the themes that led to her winning performance. “You know, there’s one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered... the graveyard.” It’s the candid performer telling us what made them an artist, but also demanding representation for the unheard. For a night that ended up championing previously untold stories and dreams both fulfilled and unfilled, consider her speech the night’s gorgeous thesis.

A master class in gratitude and passion. Can we give her another Oscar? No, I mean, like now, today.

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Reader Comments (59)

I liked the speech, but not the delivery. Blasphemy I know. But it reads much better than it played. Viola has never had the lightest touch on the podium, and that to me is a requirement for a truly successful acceptance speech.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

This is actually a leading winner´s speech.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commentertherealmike


I disagree strongly.

It felt staged and over-written. And "We're the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life." still comes across as a conceited slap-in-the-face to many of us who work with people every day.

I was offended, to b honest. Not over-offended enough to continually rant, but I am certainly going to react to over-praising articles like this one.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTravis C

I recognise I'm in the minority - and I want to start by saying I'm SO HAPPY she won (shoulda been lead, but ok) - but this speech really grated on me. Viola's speeches have been getting more and more pompous as the season has gone on, maybe it's my Britishness, but it came across as a bit hammy and insincere. "We're the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life" was the line that made me think 'Oh Hun no, get over your damn self".

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJB

If she'd said "We're a profession that celebrates what it means to live a life" instead of "the only profession" it would have been a truer, less self-aggrandizing statement. But what she said about exhuming stories from those who are dead - ordinary lives that should be illuminated on film - was powerful and is worth remembering.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHustler

It felt "off" to me. I totally understand wanting to seize the moment and make it important, but it came across a bit joyless, like the price of winning was having to give this heavy speech. But she looked lovely, and absolutely thrilled every other time I saw her that night. Most importantly, she is now and will forever be Oscar Winner, Viola Davis!

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVal

I loved it and I was moved by it. Period. She's one of our best. After thinking through the line about artists being the only ones who celebrate what it means to live a life, I agree with it, too. Doctors heal life, they don't celebrate its meaning. Social workers help others, they don't explore the meaning of life as part of their jobs, etc. It's not a knock on other jobs, it's a statement of what makes art so special and important. ("Art" obviously includes a lot of things if it includes acting.) A thoughtful, moving speech, from the extraordinary gut punch line about graveyards to the beautiful transition to August Wilson, the artist who is now in one of those graveyards and whose work Viola's art interpreted so beautifully.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterOwen Walter

Will love Viola now and forever, but "we're a profession that celebrates what it means to live a life" plays to the worst of the cliches about art and artists, and it's surprising to hear it from someone who considers her words so carefully. Maybe skip that bit of grandiose wordplay on your next Oscar speech, Viola. You must join Octavia in the category of black actresses who have been nominated after their victory.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterstarlit

She has given better speeches.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

We need to exhume the dead bodies!

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterViola

Watching the speech live, I was thinking nursery, but she went with graveyard, and I thought, "Oh, this is going to get dark."

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrevity


February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

It did sound a bit dark at the moment ,yes. However, I will have to re-watch the whole thing again after the royal screw-up at the end, as when that happened everything I saw before just left completely my bewildered brain .

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commenteradelutza

I think it might have sounded better if Viola had said 'art celebrates what it means to live a life', but like Kerry Washington's SAG speech last year about how actors "embody the worth a few humanity of all people", it came across as rather pompous and overly self-regarding.

We're all here because we love art, the performing arts specifically, but I do think some of the acting community need to demonstrate a degree of humility and balance. They're not saving lives, and not all acting amounts to great life-transforming art (although I do appreciate that Viola is among that rare breed of performers who do consistently imbue their work with integrity and meaning).

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarco

I don't see the integrity in category fraud.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Yea, I'm with most of the other commenters here. I'm glad she won, but didn't love most of the speech or the delivery. I'm weary of folks who say "We're the only...." because invariably, they're not the "only" anything. And referring to "our profession" did she mean only actors? Or the movie business in general?

And the whole Meryl <3 Viola <3 Meryl <3 Viola thing is starting to ring false. Kind of like the running Kimmel/Damon gag. Do they actually hang out, have cocktails, go to the theater together, gossip about the biz?

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Like almost everything good, art is now under siege in America. No NEA, no Corp for Public Broadcasting, in the near future. A celebration of art is a perfect time to celebrate why art is important. The argument needs to be made, and it needs to be made now, and there's no other argument to be made, because art is not practical. It feeds no one. If she can't be confident about what she's devoted her life to, what's the point?

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterOwen Walter

The line about exhuming dead bodies to relive their broken dreams and disappointment was really bleak. It had a weird whiff of exploitation about it, too. I'm so glad that's not actually what acting is all about.

I mean, in the same year, her peers played NASA mathematicians who helped win the space race. Many of our most gifted comedic actresses are black women. Black women have won gold medals and conquered daytime television.There's more than playing maids and women below the poverty line.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

I like her win alright... but the speech was like a second act play.... she was crying before she even got started... what she said was fine, but she could not have been that teary as she was the odds on favorite to win... Ohhhhh the drama!!!

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMax

If anything, she was describing an unfortunate bug in her own career: That directors and casting agents only see her in those downtrodden parts. It was odd to watch her pigeonhole herself in that way. But again, the diversity of the roles for people of color this year is hope-inspiring!

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

By the way, NOT a speech for the ages!!

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMax

I did not like the speech. She is the victim of expectations at this point. I don't think she can be truly funny spontaneously. She is always so forceful and this was over the top and a bit too much.
I love Viola and she is deserving but people have gone overboard with her deservedness at this point and i'm glad it s over and she can operate without the weight of expectations at this point. A bit unfortunate for her to win in supporting but reminiscent of Cate's win for The Aviator in a way.... a rushed make up award for a performer who has their best work still to come.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTony T

I thought the delivery was over-dramatic as if it were a play's monologue projected to the back rows. I found it so grating that I muted the TV before it finished and so shouldn't comment on the words.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commentervaus

The "we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life" line was completely bizarre and horribly worded, but the end about her parents was sweet.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEric

Yeah, it's a no from me. She felt like she was parodying herself - I still love her to death and she deserved this Oscar but the speech was awkward, over the top and didn't feel Genuine which is her trademark :(

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMorganb

No. It's okay if every one of Viola's speeches isn't outstanding and this one was awkward and, as JB said, pompous (I can imagine if George Clooney had said that "only profession" line.). It wasn't "a speech for the ages" like Blanchett's speech a couple years back or even Ali's speech at the SAGs. Asghar Farhadi, in abstentia, gave the speech of the night.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

We live in a world that considers authenticity what you identify as versus what you actually are. Viola should avoid explaining herself to non-black audiences who absolutely don't get what she's talking about.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I agree Viola came off as grateful and passionate but I thought the speech was dreadful.. IMO, she tries too hard to be profound (other speeches as well). It's just not effortless, seemed forced and strained or something. Emma Stone's speech was way, way better.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

Would Viola Davis have beaten Emma Stone had she campaigned as lead actress? I think so, and I wish she did. Maybe Naomie Harris would have won for Moonlight then.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

I'm on the same page as most here. I'm glad she won...she's a great actress and should have an Oscar. But the speech was more than a little much. Felt like she over-rehearsed it and "more self-important" is not a trend Viola needs to indulge in. I am hoping now that she finally has her Oscar she can relax and stop giving us civics lessons.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEricB

It was self important and gratingly over dramatic like most of her speeches this season. Her presenting the Cecil B. Demille award to Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes felt like she won the goddamn thing and was giving an acceptance speech for it. I used to love her so much, but I guess I'm losing it.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAFK

Yeah, agree, she lost me somewhat at exhuming and then telling me I didn't celebrate life. Love her work; can kind of understand the category decision (felt like she just brought things to a table for the first hour) though agree it could've won lead.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRobUK

@ /3rtful

It's not a black thing (for me anyway). Viola's message is on point, but her delivery is too strained and self-important, humorless. Makes me tense to watch, and I'm part of the black audience.

@ brandz

The thing is, I can critique Viola's speech, but I can't even remember Emma's. So that's a win for Viola right there.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

@3rtful Get off the Black bandwagon... It is not only getting tiresome, but it seems you are trying to divide the races between them and us... We are trying to unite and not exclude.. I also resent the fact that you feel other races do not understand the Black person's plight , but some of us that have a number of African American friends do understand and are trying to change things.


February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMax

@ Max


February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

It didn't like the speech. I cringed all the way through it.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEz

Every Viola Davis acceptance speech since "The Help" has been the same. I was both moved and bored.

I'm black. I was poor. I made it. Thank you. Dream big.

Yes, raising the awareness about diversity and inclusion is important. However, I think she can mix it up a little and make it not all about her every single time. She can/ should've done stuff like "give (insert another black actress' name / Asian actress / Indian actress) a movie" = what Streep did at SAG in 2009.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

I also was not fond of the speech, especially the part where she says, "We're the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life." I found it conceited and blatantly untrue. Another poster argued her case and used the examples of social workers, saying that social workers don't explore the meaning of life as part of their jobs. Well, I work with social workers--and they DO explore the meaning of life as part of their jobs. Good ones do, anyway.

And I actually do remember Emma Stone's speech, which I thought was lovely, refreshingly not hysterical, and gracious. In particular, I appreciated the part where she acknowledged that she has more learning and growing to do. That stood out to me because I don't think I EVER remember hearing an Oscar winner say that during a speech.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Hmmm, I'm in the minority I guess. Everyone was freaking out about her speech, but this time I found her way too over rehearsed, and dare I say it, a little bit melodramatic? The whole thing about the graveyard was...interesting.

I'm happy she finally has an Oscar, but frankly, this pales in comparison to her A+++ Emmy speech and even her Golden Globe and SAG speeches earlier this year.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

Yeah, I'm finding myself in the minority as well it seems. While her to "live a life" line was a bit cringe-y in its self-centeredness, I thought the rest was pretty damn good. A bit self-serious but why the hell not for the occasion?

As for Emma stone, I found her speech just charming and wonderful. Like Joe, I was struck by her saying she had more growing to do.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

@Paul Outlaw

Just because you can't remember Emma's speech doesn't mean others can't. Emma Stone was gracious, spontaneous and natural. Very refreshing.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

I LOVE Viola, and she absolutely deserves to be an Oscar winner.

HOWEVER, she has recycled the same kind of speech since her awards run for The Help a few years back, and those were much better.

This season felt really tired, and like "yeah, we get it." Agreed that the message is on point, but the delivery is so tense and bleak. Girl, get a sense of humor. Geez, it's an award, not a funeral.

I just wish she had used the awards season this time around to have a little more fun and be less tense. You can still make important statements without taking yourself so seriously.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

@Paul Outlaw YES seriously .. You are the most sanctimonious person on this blogsite.. If you are trying to kiss /3rtful's ass because he says he loves you, then I suggest you get some white friends who do NOT see color. I am fortunate enough to have married a black woman and my in-laws are better than my own family.

I find that the Blacks like you and /3rtful still want the world to see you as pitiful.. You aren't and there are so many successful African Americans who can dance rings around us WHITE folks.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMax

@brandz By the way, I think Emma's speech here and at other award shows has been quite fresh and not so theatrical. I remember it.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMax

Wow, these comments are so interesting to read! Hearing people unimpressed with a Davis speech feels so uncommon, and near-unanimous disappointment feels unheard of!

Surely, Viola's speeches tend to be BIG in scope, so that wasn't a surprise. But "the lives of everyday people passed" feels like a much more general, less pointed topic for her to structure a speech around. But avoiding touchier topics seemed to be an overarching theme of the speeches this year.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

I'm glad she won her Oscar but the inordinate love this site has for her is getting ridiculous. Her speech was great? Not even by a hair's breadth.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJans

The reason I don't remember Emma's speech that well is not because it was bad, but because Viola's speech, the Best Picture snafu and the Best Actor debate have been dominating the conversation. My point was that no matter what I personally think of Viola's speech or how she delivered it, it definitely left a strong impression. I did like Emma's comment about having more growing to do.

@ Max
Your ignorance and racism seep out of everything you've posted in this thread, and I don't give a damn who you married or what you think you know. You certainly don't know a damn thing about me.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

If you EVER mutter the statement "I find that the Blacks like you" -- you should probably rescind any idea of "not being racist" that you have lolllllll. That is truly a shameful thing to say, and sounds exactly like someone with a pitchfork, leading an angry mob.

And "not seeing color" doesn't make you better. It's ignorant and actually a modern type of racism. Being "color blind" is not a thing. You see color, and you will have privilege as a white person, and experience disadvantages as a person of color. Just because you want to have idealistic elementary views and live in a fantasy world where race does not exist, doesn't make these real issues go away in the world that everyone else is living in. It has nothing to do with being "pitiful" and everything to do with actually having a realistic view of the world/society we live in, and not one being viewed through rose colored glasses. And I'm white, before you spew any ignorant comments my way.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

Kevin -- agreed that people seemed to be avoiding controversy. it actually surprised me (so much less political than SAG.

everyone -- let's keep it civil and professional. touchy topics tend to bring up lots of triggers but we're all hear to love on the Oscars and movie stars.

as for Viola - i loved the speech but i am puzzled about the "only" profession thing. I'm not sure she meant actors so much as "artists"... at least I hope that's what she meant because encompassing all of the arts makes that make more sense even if it's a little insensitive to i don't know, teachers and therapists, and what not.

February 27, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Yeah, I absolutely despise when people say I see things "color-blind". Such a dumb, patronizing, and at worst, damaging concept. Also, I've noticed the people who usually say this have grown up in a mostly white, homogeneous society where POC are absent from life or on the periphery.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

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