Viola Davis Oscar Speech

Oscars 2017: Viola Davis Wins Best Supporting Actress for Fences

She went in the odds-on favorite and came out a winner.

As predicted by Oscar prognosticators far and wide, Viola Davis took home the Best Supporting Actress trophy at Sunday’s 89th annual Academy Awards for her raw, visceral work in Fences.

In her emotional acceptance speech, Davis said, “There’s one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered, and that’s the graveyard. People ask me all the time, ‘What kind of stories do you wan to tell, Viola?’ and I say, “Exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost.’ I became an artist, and thank God I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life. So here’s to [Fences screenwriter/playwright] August Wilson, who exhumed and exalted the ordinary people.”

Heading into Sunday’s ceremony, the How to Get Away With Murder actress had already triumphed at the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards and the BAFTAs.

This was Davis’ third Oscar nomination and first win; she had previously been nominated for her work in 2009’s Doubt and 2012’s The Help. 

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37 Comments
  1. flowerduh says:

    Yay!!!! It’s well deserved!

  2. rattus says:

    Did she mean that her stupid profession is important and all of us are losers who do real jobs??? Or did I misunderstand her???

    • K says:

      There’s always one person who has to criticise a genuinely nice and thoughtful speech from the Oscars. She clearly didn’t say that.

    • Harris says:

      rattus is right, she did imply that

    • Kathy says:

      You did misunderstand her. She was simply saying that she is fortunate to be able to tell stories of the unchampioned, that this is her life’s work and she is amazed she gets to do that. Beyond that, that she gets to bring to life the words of such as August Wilson, who wrote stories about the everyday experience of the forgotten and unremarked in this world. Never did she call anyone a loser. She may have referred to those who loved and lost – but that hardly makes a person a loser.

    • Inspector71 says:

      No, you got it right. They really think they’re that important.

  3. And this surprises absolutely no one. :) Not that that’s a bad thing.

  4. Peaches Ehrich says:

    I sure loved her performance but if she thinks artists are the only people who know how to celebrate a life she diminishes the everyday life of the rest of us. I bet she didn’t mean it to stab those of us on the front lines, because she is clearly on the right side of humanity.

    Mine is a life a service and I celebrate hers, believe me, but how many snack bags, socks, clothes and bicycles does she hand out to the homeless does she do in person on a day to day? I do it in person.

    But I am thrilled to pieces with her win and she should have been up for lead actress!

    • sophia mesghenna says:

      I really don’t think she meant to do that. She looked pretty emotional.

    • HQ says:

      Read it again. She doesn’t say celebrate a life; she says celebrate what it means to live a life. That may sound like semantics, but it is completely different. You are living the life, but does anyone celebrate it and tell your story? For the majority of people, the answer is no. She isn’t comparing her life to the lives of the people she gets to play. She is just saying that she is honored and grateful to be able to tell their stories and celebrate their lives. Lives we might not even know about, much less have the opportunity to celebrate without someone telling their story on that kind of stage.

      • Wow. I mean, she did a good job and was really good in that movie but she is acting like she just found a cure for leukemia. Some of these people need to look themselves in the mirror and remember that they are there to amuse us. That’s the job. You are not a hero. I really think, for the most part, this Oscars did a good job of remembering that Hollywood is a town of entertainers and not to take anything too seriously. This is an entertainer receiving an award from other entertainers because she did a good job entertaining people.

      • Mollymoo says:

        Spend time with hospice workers and volunteers. Teachers. Life coaches. Researchers. Special needs parents. People who have lost loved ones. . . there are plenty of folks that celebrate what it means to live a life. I was with her until that comment. It comes across as more Hollywood elitism. If those who didn’t take that way can infer what they think she meant….I think of us that did take it that can infer what we thought we heard.

  5. Iris Kewin says:

    So sad she felt she needed to say that…there are other professionals who know what it is to celebrate life…just ask a surgeon who just gave a child another chance to live or a therapist who is helping someone to reconnect to their lives…so much more out there than the acting professionals

    • Grey'sFan says:

      Or the journalist who digs for the truth and changes the world by exposing the lies and corruption.

      • On says:

        You mean like Wikileaks, the truth and it is ignored.

        • Grey'sFan says:

          As a writer/journalist I take great pride telling peoples stories with passion and hope they tug at the emotional heartstrings, and I’d be honoured to have a great actress like V.D. star in a Hollywood film based on my writings.

  6. Haz says:

    I will admit I believe she was snubbed for The Help and that I preferred her performance over Meryl’s (others may disagree on that and that’s ok). While I’m glad she won the Oscar, but I do not agree with whoever thought it was best to put her in the supporting category. She won the Tony in the leading category for Fences, and I really think she belonged in the leading category at the Oscars. Denzel and her were co-leads and the reason she was submitted as supporting was due to how crowded the lead actress race was. I think Naomie Harris would win if they had entered Davis as a lead. I’m not sure if this says more about the Academy voters or if it says more about whomever thought that she could not win in the lead actress category.

    • ChrisGa says:

      I thought she should’ve won for The Help too (not that I didn’t think Meryl wasn’t great in The Iron Lady as well).

    • mia says:

      Haz, I happen to agree with you. I kept wondering why she was supporting, when she was clearly lead in the movie.. I am going to go with your theory that the Lead pool was crowded… I was really surprised by that, but maybe next time they will get it right. I was happy that she won. I really like her, espcially on How To Get Away with Murder, but this win was definitely well deserved.

  7. Kate says:

    A little self-indulgent. Thank god Mahershalas speech was a nice and needed quiet ‘thank you’ without trying to be too poetic or “making it a moment”. I honestly thought both Naomie Harris and Michelle Williams deserved the award more…Violas acting is just not to my liking…I haven’t seen her on stage- so I can’t speak to that but on film it’s all a little on the nose for me, unsubtle.

    • ncneto says:

      What about Michele Williams and BusyPPhilips together? That was an amazing throwback moment for me. How much I miss Dawson’s Creek

  8. Coop says:

    That one comment she made is something only an actor would say. I’m just going to assume she misspoke, otherwise she’s an idiot.

  9. Claire says:

    I like her and I am happy for her win. I didn’t like her speech, though. This show is all about how brave and heroic making expensive movies is, and she fell into the trap.

  10. Ken says:

    People are attacking her speech but are completely missing the point (not that I didn’t expect people to read into what they want). Yes, surgeons and doctors and nurses save lives. Teachers pass wisdom on to their students. The list goes on. But no other profession, as she stated, celebrates lives. Do surgeons celebrate the past lives of migrant farmers? Or space explorers? Do they tell their stories to the world? She was talking about all of the lives past, present and future and their stories that need to be told.

    • Coop says:

      If you don’t think other professions and other peoples’ life stories celebrate lives, I don’t know what to tell you. In many cases, people themselves are responsible for having their lives celebrated along with those that were key to their successes. You don’t always need an artist to get that point across or it to become widely recognized. In fact, in many cases artists aren’t involved in that process at all.

    • Claire says:

      As a teacher, I have to say, we celebrate children. We celebrate their growth, their happiness, how far they’ve come from where they started. We celebrate their lives in how we teach them and in how we support them. I think that’s also true of many professions, like doctors, who celebrate their ability to add to a patient’s life and to learn where these people come from. To say ONLY actors do that is limiting. I don’t think she meant it the way it came off, but it’s not an exclusive club of actors, it’s how people in any profession approach the world.

    • Mollymoo says:

      I disagree Ken, I don’t think it’s about “missing the point.” As a writer, when we put our thoughts on paper or otherwise give voice to them, they become open to the interpretation of those that read/hear them. Giving speeches isn’t all that different. You point specifically to “celebrate lives.” I will say again – have you spent time with a hospice worker or volunteer? These come along side the dying and their families and sometimes all they do is listen – they listen to a life story. They celebrate that life. They allow it to be given voice and wings – the highs, the lows, the wins, the regrets. The fact that they don’t have the means to broadcast it doesn’t negate the fact they do it. When a medical professional saves a life, I personally think there’s a moment of celebration – and when they don’t, at some point, there’s a bit of mourning of what was lost and celebration of what was. When a teacher stands before a classroom and shares history, or science or literature – they are absolutely celebrating the lives of those that contributed to those things. Artist have one way to celebrate lives, they don’t, however, have the monopoly on it. And when an artist stands up and claims it as such – well it runs some the wrong way.

  11. Lucifer says:

    While her speech did come off a bit snooty by claiming acting is the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life, it’s leap years better than her previous speech where she compared herself to Harriet Tubman.

  12. Eran says:

    Could you stop being so f’ing literal?! What she clearly meant and anyone who is in the arts will tell you this, it IS the only profession where you inhabit a life entire, originally (for the most part) created on paper! She spoke as someone who FEELS her work to her very core and we should all be so luck to ever experience a 1/10 of that passion as deeply as she does.
    I totally get how this might have rubbed people the wrong way but honestly folks, just because you have a keyboard at home or on your phone, doesn’t mean you need to lunge at it the very second you feel something.
    No one stops to think anymore. No one listens and no one contextualises. Consider the person, consider the work and the context!

    • Brigid says:

      Agreed 100%!

    • Katie Stone says:

      Perhaps, Eran, people DID listen and think…the fact they came up with a different decision doesn’t warrant your profanity laced smack down. How do you know what she meant more than the next person? It was your interpretation of her words. . . just like those that took issue with them have theirs.

  13. MLO says:

    She doesn’t strike me as the self-important type. I think her intention was pure, but unfortunately masked by a poor choice of words left open to interpretation.

  14. Niko says:

    I just want to know why she did not get music played on her. most others did. she got to talk as long as she wanted.