It seemed preordained. On a night when so many members of the entertainment industry came together to make their dedication to female-centric movements like #TimesUp and #MeToo, one of Hollywood’s most prolific pioneers would be on hand to accept the Cecil B. DeMille Award for her massive contributions to the world. Oprah Winfrey was announced as this year’s recipient of the award back in December, but tonight’s speech couldn’t have been more timely.
The HFPA’s version of a Lifetime Achievement award, the Cecil B. DeMille Award is given to recipients for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment.” Named after the legendary director of such films as “Cleopatra,” “Samson and Delilah” and “The Ten Commandments,” the award was first given out in 1952 and has been doled out continuously since, save for the 1976 and 2008 ceremonies, where it was not awarded to anyone.
Winfrey was lovingly introduced by her “A Wrinkle in Time” costar Reese Witherspoon, who noted that she’s one of the few people whose name is “a verb, an adjective, and a feeling,” and thanked her for her “greatest-thing-ever” hugs. But for Witherspoon, there was one key takeaway she felt the need to impart for fans of the multi-hyphenate: the need to thank her for all of her work.
Winfrey took the stage to a standing ovation, where she, of course, thanked the audience in turn. (It was hard to get them to sit down.) To kick off her speech, Winfrey vividly remembered watching the Oscars when Sidney Poitier won his first Oscar — “a kid in the cheap seats,” she termed it — and how it changed her life.
“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,” she said. “It is an honor and it is a privilege to share the evening with all of them.”
Much like last year’s recipient, Meryl Streep, Winfrey also used her speech to turn her attention to the press.
“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,” Winfrey said. “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.”
For Winfrey, that truth goes hand and hand with both #MeToo and #TimesUp, and she added, “I am especially proud and inspired by all of the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories… I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault… They are the women whose names we will never know.”
Winfrey then named one such woman, who was the subject of the recent documentary “The Rape of Recy Taylor,” which highlighted her horrific rape in 1944, and her fight to bring her perpetrators to justice, even when the road was nearly impossible. Taylor passed away just 10 days ago.
“For too long, women have not been heard or believed, if they dared to speak their truth to the power of these men,” Winfrey said. “But their time is up. Their time is up. Their time is up.”
She ended her speech with a rallying cry and a promise, telling the crowd, “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 a time when nobody ever has to say, ‘me, too’ again!”
Recent recipients of the award include Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington, George Clooney, Woody Allen, Jodie Foster and Morgan Freeman. The first woman to receive the honor was Judy Garland back in 1962. At 39 years of age at the time of the award, she was also the youngest honoree ever to receive the DeMille.