WATCH: Viola Davis’ Acceptance Speech For Harvard’s Artist of the Year Award

After winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her outstanding performance in Fences last week, Viola Davis was named Harvard’s Artist of the Year for “her exceptional contributions to the performing arts.”

During her acceptance speech, Davis spoke  about the importance of art and of artists, offering up what she hopes to achieve through her work.

“Art, it’s a very sacred place, the stage and the screen.  Because really, at the end of the day, even what I do as an artist, when I channel characters and people and their stories, and those moments in their lives that we sometimes hide, that we feel like is just our mess, our shame. I want people to be seen. I want them to feel less alone … Your job as an audience is to bear witness. To come open and willing to transform.”

“I want people to be seen,” she continued. “I want them to feel less alone … Your job as an audience is to bear witness. To come open and willing to transform.”

Davis then went on to discuss how she herself once struggled with those feelings of being alone, and how the ability to flex her muscles as an artist has helped her to combat the “chip on my shoulder.”

“I spent so many years at Julliard just wanting to beat somebody up,” she continued. “I think it was the height of my anger; that chip on my shoulder. I’m still trying to take care of that chip on my shoulder, by the way. It was mainly because I felt my voice as an artist was being stifled.”

Last weekend, Davis made history by becoming the first black woman to achieve the triple crown of the industry, those who have received an Emmy, Tony, and Oscar for acting, a feat only 22 others have ever accomplished. Notably, Whoopi Goldberg has also completed a triple crown of sorts, but her Tony came from producing the Broadway musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, she did not act in the musical.

Check out Viola Davis’ powerful and inspiring speech above!



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The HBR Media Team is a collective group of black women filmmakers, writers, and studio/network executives who are passionate about bringing visibility to women of African descent working in film and television.

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