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Golden Globes 2017: Viola Davis shows everyone how awards acceptance speeches are done

A winner for Fences, the actress honors the importance of American theater and her late father’s memory.

Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Viola Davis gives great awards show speeches.

Yes, she thanks people who’ve made her win possible. And yes, she makes sure to work in a quick emotional beat at the end, to leave you realizing how moved she is to have worked on whatever project she just won for.

But what makes a Viola Davis awards show speech so good is the way she gracefully winds a theme through everything she says. When she won at the Emmys for How to Get Away With Murder, that theme was opportunity for women of color. And when she won a 2017 Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for her stunning work in Fences, that theme was the importance of theater in telling American stories that aren’t always told.

She developed the idea early on, with a quick nod toward the idea that Hollywood might not think making a film out of an acclaimed play is a guaranteed moneymaker, but it sometimes is necessary if studios want to make art. She then laced in the names of all of the people who brought August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize–winning, monumental play from 1983 to the screen after almost 35 years, culminating with its star and director, Denzel Washington, of whom, she said, she was a “friend and a fan.”

But Davis also underlined why getting the work of Wilson on the big screen is so important. (Fences, remarkably, is the first major feature film made from the acclaimed playwright’s works.) She pointed to her own father, who had only a fifth-grade education and not many chances to see characters like himself onscreen but still had a story to be told. And with Fences, that story is in multiplexes, where anyone can see it for the price of a ticket.

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