What was the takeaway last night from attending the Oscars? For a select few, it was carrying home the most coveted trophy of a career. For others, it was feeling like all the hard work was perhaps not worth it as they walked away empty-handed. For those of us millions watching on television, perhaps it was the fun of looking at all the “beautiful” people. Or, maybe it was rooting for your favorite film and finding out that it won, or, Oops! maybe it didn’t. For others yet, maybe it was the hilarious moments when the tour bus passengers were shaking hands with celebrities in their tee shirts and cut-offs. For me, it was something different.
As a public speaker, I am always fascinated by the acceptance speeches. I read something yesterday afternoon about a coach who supposedly helps the actors craft a short speech ahead of time so they don’t bumble and stumble in front of millions of fans. I don’t know if that was “fake” information, but if it wasn’t, it sure showed up in Viola Davis’s eloquent monologue. If she hadn’t won for Fences, a role of a lifetime that she embraced and nailed perfectly, then it could have been for the way-over-30-second speech she delivered with tears in her eyes and passion in her delivery.
This woman is amazing. Her thank yous were heartfelt and specific, giving each person credit for giving her the strength and determination to “rise”, as Maya Angelou, so exquisitely puts it in her poem, “Still I Rise.” Viola Davis is a class act. She thanked her parents and expressed her gratitude for their love and nurturing. Her story was artistically woven through her speech, and by the end, we knew a lot more about this humble celebrity whose role in Fences told the story of so many women trying to hold a family together and model the values that poverty threatens daily. Fences is about endurance, pride, tolerance, strength, dignity and selfless love. Viola Davis stood before us last night, as tears welled in her eyes, a picture of determination and strength—a role model of courage and humility. She played her character well because it was her own.
Still I Rise
BY MAYA ANGELOU
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.