A Brief History of Viola Davis’s Inspiring Speeches

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Viola Davis. Photo: Lester Cohen/Getty Images

Last night, when Viola Davis made history as the first black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Actress in a Drama, she gave an appropriately epic speech. The actress, who won for the Shonda Rhimes juggernaut How to Get Away With Murder, used her time at the podium to move us, inspire us, and call Hollywood out on the BS that holds women of color back. Classic Viola. 

Her Emmy win might have been a first, but Davis has always used her acceptance speeches as an opportunity to drop some serious insights and challenges. Here are some of our favorite Davis acceptance moments to help rally you this Monday morning:

Accepting a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor for The Help in January 2012:
“You know, we arrived on the set in July in 2010 with such heavy loads on our shoulders. Such great expectations were already there for this book that was so beloved. And it’s been such a labor of love, and they say that the ensemble is just a group effort, just brought together to create a singular effect, and all these actors on this stage gave up their ego and were able to just work. And it’s been such a joy, just to be a part of this cast. And me and Octavia, we have merged into Aibileen and Minny, by the way. And I just want to say that the stain of racism and sexism is not just for people of color or women. It’s all of our burden. All of us. And I don’t care how ordinary you may feel. All of us can inspire change. Every single one of us. Thank you.”

Accepting a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Actress in a New TV Series for HTGAWM in January 2015:
While receiving her first accolade for HTGAWM, Davis also delivered a subtle, one-line retort to Alessandra Stanley’s comment that she was “older, darker-skinned, and less classically beautiful” by thanking "Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers, and Peter Nowalk for thinking of a leading lady that looks like my classic beauty."

Accepting a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Drama Series for HTGAWM in January 2015:
"All right. When I tell my daughter stories at night, inevitably a few things happen: No. 1, I use my imagination. I always start with life, and then I build from there. And then the other thing that happens is she says, 'Mommy, can you put me in the story?' And you know what, it starts from the top up. So I'd like to thank Paul Lee, Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers, Bill D'Elia, and Peter Nowak for thinking that a sexualized, messy, mysterious woman could be a 49-year-old dark-skinned African-American women who looks like me."

And one more time, for good measure, last night's speech: