By now, you should know who Kerry Washington is. After a vibrant and varied film career, she has spent the last three years portraying Washington, D.C., powerhouse Olivia Pope on ABC’s Scandal. It has been 40 years since an African-American woman has had a starring role on network television, a sad reality that certainly needed to change.
Last night Kerry Washington received the 2014 Women in Film Lucy Award for Excellence in Television to celebrate her remarkable career and her breakout performance on Scandal. Shonda Rimes (executive producer of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy) proudly presented her the award, calling her “brilliant and bold.”
Washington’s speech on women, and their role in the media, is not to be missed. You can read the full transcript here below.
Oh God, I’m out in public. Hmm.
Thank you, Shonda, so much. You are such a gift to all of us, and the writer that you are has changed me as an artist, so thank you for that. I want to thank my whole team that’s here — I have some pretty badass women on my team and they’re all here. And the awesome men who have the courage to work with badass women, thank you. It’s really thrilling to be in the presence of tonight’s other honorees, I’m humbled to be in a group that includes my sister, Eva [Longoria]. Jennifer [Lee] I am totally fangirling because Frozen is on rotation in my house, and I just love it, love it, love it. And Cate Blanchett, you know how much I respect and adore you, and appreciate your existence. And Rose [Bryne], I’m a huge fan. I’m a huge, huge, huge fan, and it’s really amazing to be in your company — all of you.
So, I want to tell on myself, because a dear friend of mine, Pat Mitchell, who herself is a badass woman in the business, having run PBS and the Payley Center for Media, she called me a few years ago, because she for a long time worked for TED. I don’t mean like a guy, Ted, like, TED, that thing where people give speeches and you watch them. She called and said, ‘I’m going to be running TED Women and I would love for you to speak.’ And I said, ‘You know, gosh, you know what, Pat, I really appreciate the invitation, but I just don’t know really what I would say, I’m not sure what my story would be, I think I should decline, and maybe when I’m ready I’ll come do that.’ And Pat said to me, ‘Kerry, I’ve worked with TED for a really long time. No man has ever said to me, I’m not ready to speak, but for TED Women you are part of a long list of women who have denied me by saying they’re not ready.’ And I realized that what that meant is that we as women put ourselves in this situation of feeling like we can’t take a risk, like in order to step out there we have to be perfect, because we’re scared that if we don’t say the right thing, or do the right thing, that we’ll reflect poorly on ourselves and our community, whether that community be women, people of color, both. [Kerry raises hand]
So sometimes, we don’t step out there. And I’m telling on myself, because I didn’t [speak], even after Pat said to me, ‘This is so unfortunate, this is so wrong, women have to feel comfortable speaking out and stepping up, and standing in their light, and owning their voice.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you’re right. Good luck.’ [audience laughs] I don’t do that often, but when I do, I know that it’s not good for me, and it’s not good for other women. I work for a woman, Shonda Rimes, who [to Shonda, on stage] I’m going to talk about you like you’re not here, who because of her courage to step into her light, and step up, and own her voice, has provided an opportunity for so many other women to soar, in front of and behind the camera. That’s what happens when we step up for ourselves — we create opportunity, whether it’s because we inspire other people or [points to Shonda] we employ other people or both.
This award is named after Lucille Ball, an extraordinary woman in television, because she was an actor, a comedian, a director, a producer, a studio owner [chokes up]. It’s an award for excellence, and so I’m going to take it home, and put it on my shelf as a reminder of what I should be striving for, which is excellence. And as a reminder that I have to continue to step up [mic gives feedback]. That was the sign: ‘Step up.’ And I need to not be afraid, and we each need to not be afraid of taking those risks, that Cate [Blanchett] talked about. We need to be willing to be uncomfortable, to be flawed, to be imperfect, to own our voice, to step into our light, so that we can continue to inspire other people and employ other people, and make room for more and more voices and presence.
I really want to thank each of you for being here tonight, for each of you who donated, not just because you got fancy gifts if you donated, but because you believe in the mission of Women in Film. So, I thank Women in Film, and I thank you, Shonda, and I just thank each of you for sharing in this extraordinary evening. And while I do love the word ‘exceptional,’ I hope that it is no longer exceptional very, very soon for women to do anything extraordinary in this business. Thanks.
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