On Sunday night, Oprah Winfrey received the Cecil B. DeMille Award, the Golden Globes’ prize for lifetime achievement. Her co-star in the upcoming A Wrinkle in Time, Reese Witherspoon, introduced her, using the kind of superlatives and hyperbole many of us have become accustomed to ascribing to the multihyphenate: “Oprah’s hugs could end wars, solve world peace,” she said. “It’s like your oldest dearest friend has just seen you after the longest journey of your life.”
Yes, Oprah (as with Prince and Beyoncé, a first name is all you need) is extraordinary in almost every way possible. But she’s so much more than just a superwealthy guru, and her acceptance speech—or, dare I say, campaign-launch speech?—proved it. Through an exhilarating monologue, she took us on a journey that reminded us she wasn’t just spun out of gold for all of us to marvel at and be inspired by: Through hard work and a supportive network, she rose against near-impossible odds, and through her charisma and intellect, she offered up the comforting fantasy that she just might lead us all out of these dark times.
She opened by painting a picture of herself as a little girl, watching Sidney Poitier become the first black Best Actor winner at the 1964 Academy Awards. “I’d never seen a black man being celebrated like that,” she said. “I tried many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door, bone-tired from cleaning other people’s houses.” She then brought that memory full circle, pointing out that she is the first black woman to win the Cecil B. DeMille Award, and that, in turn, some little girls watching her at home will likewise be galvanized by seeing her on stage.
As if that moment weren’t emotional enough, she then turned directly to the theme of the night, the #MeToo movement, and summed it up eloquently and fiercely. She emphasized the importance of speaking truth in the face of “tyrants … secrets and lies” and acknowledged her peers in the room who had done so in the wake of the fallout. But she didn’t dwell on the entertainment industry, instead moving quickly to speak about the “women whose names we’ll never know … the domestic workers and farm workers … [those] working in factories and … in restaurants.” She invoked the story of Recy Taylor, a black woman who was kidnapped and gang-raped by six white men in 1944 and reported the incident to the NAACP, though her rapists were never charged. (Taylor died at the age of 97 just 10 days ago, and a documentary about her ordeal was released last year.)
Oprah concluded her speech with a call to action, one that recalled her work as an artist and public figure and a supporter of other artists and public figures (particularly those who might typically be marginalized) and brought the audience to their feet.
In my career, what I’ve always tried my best to do, whether on television or through film, is to say something about how men and women really behave. To say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat, persevere, and how we overcome. I’ve interviewed and portrayed people who’ve withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights. So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon!
Oprah could have made the moment more about herself: Long before many of the women in Hollywood found the strength (and the support) to be open about the abuse they suffered, she told the world that she was molested by a relative. Instead, she focused on the unsung, those who don’t have access to New York Times reporters. It felt like a media mogul making a sure-footed step into the political ring—the right words, the right vigor, coming from the right vessel.
Will Oprah actually run for office, or are these just fever dreams brought on by the nipping flames of our presently burning democracy? It’s almost certainly the latter, but as momentum built, and Twitterers began to respond to her speech by suggesting she should run, the Los Angeles Times was inspired to ask her partner of many years, Stedman Graham, what he thought of a presidential bid in 2020. “It’s up to the people,” he said. “She would absolutely do it.”