Television legend and acclaimed film actress Oprah Winfrey became the first African-American to receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment. On a night where just about everyone in attendance wore black in solidarity with the newly-formed Time’s Up, an advocacy group that will provide legal counsel and funding for survivors of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, Winfrey was introduced by Reese Witherspoon, who gave an impassioned speech and praised Winfrey for her extraordinary career, wisdom and said her hugs, which she received many of while the two were co-starring in the forthcoming film A Wrinkle in Time, as “the greatest thing ever.”
Winfrey’s speech, as an NBC tweet put it, drew a “standing O” from everyone in the room at the 75th Golden Globe Awards show, and it also sparked conjecture that she may run for president sometime soon. Winfrey, who is just the 15th woman in history to be given the award, talked about watching Sydney Poitier win the best actor Oscar 53 years ago, when she was a young girl. In 1982, Poitier was honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award.
“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,” Winfrey told the audience. “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’d ever seen,” Winfrey recalled.
“I’d never seen a black man being celebrated like that. I tried very 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 peoples’ houses.” But all she could do was quote Poitier and say, ‘Amen, amen.’ 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 the same award. It is an honor and it is a privilege to share the evening with all of them,” the TV icon added.
Winfrey went on to address the “complicated times” we live in and sang the praises of a free press that doggedly pursues the “absolute truth.” She continued, saying, “Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. I am especially proud of all of 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 we tell and this year, we became the story.”
Winfrey then went on to recount the story of Recy Taylor, a black woman who in 1944, at the age of 24, was raped by 6 white men, blindfolded and left for dead on the side of a road in Alabama. It was the height of the Jim Crow Era in the South and her attackers were never brought to justice, but the NAACP, thanks to some help from Rosa Parks, took up her case. In 2011, the state of Alabama’s legislature issued Taylor an official apology. Taylor died on December 28, just three days shy of her 98th birthday, and Winfrey praised her as one of the pivotal figures in the ongoing fight for justice and equality.
“I want all the girls watching here and now to know that a new day is on the horizon,” Winfrey declared. “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,” she concluded, bringing audience members to their feet for the second time during her speech.
Many on social media speculated that Winfrey’s impassioned remarks were a sign of a impending run for the White House, a possibility Winfrey actually breathed life into during an interview in March, 2017. The hashtag #Oprah2020 trended on Twitter and NBC, the network that broadcasts the Golden Globes, posted a tweet saying, “Nothing but respect for OUR future president,” at the outset of the show.
Watch Winfrey’s complete Golden Globes speech below.