Speaking Truth at The Oscars, Despite the Haters

Three months ago, Meryl Streep gave an acceptance speech that rocked America. When receiving the Cecil B. DeMille award at the Golden Globes, Meryl told the world (and the president) what she thought about the current climate of our nation. “Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence,” spoke the actress after describing an exchange between Donald Trump and a handicapped reporter. “When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.” Pretty insightful words, right? Not everyone clapped.

"As the saying goes, when you step into the arena, you’re going to get your ass kicked."

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen,” Brené Brown wrote in her book Daring Greatly--Meryl did just that. She stepped onto the world stage, bore her thoughts and feelings to the crowd, and let herself be vulnerable to criticism from the masses. (The president even weighed in and berated her by calling her “overrated” and a “Hillary flunky.”) As the saying goes, when you step into the arena, you’re going to get your ass kicked, and it takes being vulnerable to do so.

The Oscars were last night, and we were so excited to see not only who won the coveted golden statue, but also to hear what everyone had to say.

So, in celebration of Sunday night’s wins and speeches, we’ve rounded-up 10 powerful Oscar moments featuring actors, actresses, and directors who, like Meryl, also wore their hearts (and causes) on their sleeves.


Halle Berry | Best Actress, Monster’s Ball, 2002

“This moment is so much bigger than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It's for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it's for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.”

How could we not start off with Halle Berry? Halle brought the crowd to tears when she won her Best Actress award as she was the first and only African American to win in that category ever. The historical moment was met with a standing ovation, and let’s be honest, even though we weren’t there, her exuberance, amazement, and pure joy had us standing at home, too. (And we still haven’t forgotten that dress!)


Marlon Brando | Best Actor, The Godfather, 1973

“Hello. My name is Sacheen Littlefeather. I'm Apache and I am president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee. I'm representing Marlon Brando this evening and he has asked me to tell you in a very long speech, which I cannot share with you presently because of time but I will be glad to share with the press afterwards, that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award.”

Who took the stage when Marlon Brando won the Best Actor statue for The Godfather in 1973? Not Brando. The actor sent in Sacheen Littlefeather, an Apache woman, to protest the Native American depiction in Hollywood films, as well as bring awareness to the ongoing Wounded Knee siege that would ultimately lead to four deaths. Littlefeather was initially met with boos and jeers from the crowd, but ultimately earned overwhelming applause. Brando had written a 15-page speech detailing his beliefs, but the Academy refused to allow Littlefeather to read it, and immediately implemented new rules prohibiting proxy acceptances.


Patricia Arquette | Best Supporting Actress, Boyhood, 2015

“To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else's equal rights, it's our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

When Patricia Arquette won her Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, she addressed a pressing issue that before then had largely been tacit--equal pay. But who knew this speech would be so controversial? People lambasted Arquette for not being inclusive (where is she exclusive?), and the actress lost roles for speaking her mind. Unfortunately, the gender gap still exists.


Matthew McConaughey | Best Actor, Dallas Buyers Club, 2013

“And to my hero; that's who I chase. Now, when I was 15 years old I had a very important person in my life come to me and say, "Who's your hero?" And I said, I don't know; I gotta think about that. Give me a couple of weeks. I come back two weeks later, this person comes up and says, "Who's your hero?" I said, I thought about it. You know who it is? I said, it's me in 10 years. So I turned 25; ten years later that same person comes to me and goes, "So, are you a hero?" And I was like, not even close! No, no, no. She said, "Why?" I said, because my hero's me at 35. So you see every day, every week, every month and every year of my life, my hero's always 10 years away. I'm never gonna be my hero. I'm not gonna attain that; I know I'm not. And that's just fine with me, because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasin'.”

With Matthew McConaughey’s Best Actor win in 2013 came some sage advice. Matthew’s advice, which is quoted in full above, tells you to follow your hero. And who is your hero? Yourself. If you always chase your future, you’re always aspiring to be the best you can be. Well, we say, alright, alright, alright. (Sorry, we had to.)


Lupita Nyong’o | Best Supporting Actress, 12 Years a Slave, 2014

“When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”

Everyone can agree that Lupita Nyong’o’s speech was inspirational. Turning heads as abused slave Patsey in 12 Years a Slave, Lupita was the first Mexican woman and Kenyan woman to win the Supporting Actress award. In her acceptance, Lupita reminded us that we all have dreams, whether big or small, that are worth believing in.


Jennifer Lawrence | Best Actress, Silver Linings Playbook, 2012

“Thank you. You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell and that's really embarrassing, but thank you. This is nuts.”

Jennifer Lawrence started her Best Actress acceptance speech by gracefully tripping over her Dior Couture gown while making it up the stairs to the stage. What followed were squeals and incredibly earnest thank yous. If you didn’t already love J-Law, you most definitely loved her after this moment.


Julianne Moore | Best Actress, Still Alice, 2015

“So many people with [Alzheimer’s] feel isolated and marginalized and one of the wonderful things about movies is it makes us feel seen and not alone. And people with Alzheimer’s deserve to be seen…”

In her Oscar speech, Julianne Moore used the stage as a platform for awareness. The film, for which Julianne won Best Supporting Actress, explores the life of a linguistics professor with early onset Alzheimer’s. Moore took this opportunity to call for a cure to the disease while tugging at our heartstrings with her beautiful reminder of the meaning of movies.  


Kathryn Bigelow | Best Director, Hurt Locker, 2010

“This really is, um, there's no other way to describe it, it's the moment of a lifetime.”

Kathryn Bigelow beat out ex-husband James Cameron to become to the first woman to win the directing Oscar. "It's the moment of a lifetime," she repeated throughout her speech as the moment was both personal and historical. At the end of her speech, Kathryn thanked the men and women in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, and asked for a safe return home.


Vanessa Redgrave | Best Supporting Actress, Julia, 1978

“And I salute... those who tried to express in their lives and their work the truth that they believed in. I salute you, and I thank you, and I pledge to you that I will continue to fight against anti-Semitism and fascism.”

Wow. We’d be silly for not mentioning the highly contentious 1978 Best Supporting Actress acceptance speech. Up to that year, the Academy Awards were unfamiliar yet no strangers to the world of politics. (Think Marlon Brando’s absent 1973 speech above.) The Oscar crowd was astounded nearly 40 years ago when Vanessa Redgrave (a woman!) gave her “rant” on anti-Semitism and fascism. The award came after Redgrave had narrated a pro-Palestinian documentary movie, and protesters showed up to the theater burning effigies of Redgrave on the sidewalks. Later, Redgrave was criticized for her political outburst as others told her politics had no place in Hollywood. My, how times have changed!

And finally… the speech everyone is talking about this morning….

Viola Davis | Best Supporting Actress, Fences, 2017

“I became an artist-- and thank God I did-- because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”

What a speech! Viola Davis delivered the words we needed last night. The graveyard, said Viola, was the place where people held the most potential. “What kind of stories do you want to tell?” Viola asked. “Exhume those bodies, exhume those stories,” she said. The beautiful stories of those not heard nor appreciated. We couldn’t agree more.

So....whose Oscar speech has left you speechless? In the comments below, I'd love you to turn insight into action right away. 



P.SI'd love to know I'm not alone. If you loved these Oscar speeaches too, stop by my inbox and commiserate, okay?


Heather Catania