I don’t gravitate towards stories about perfect people in perfect situations because in real life there is no such thing. Since this is an award for public service I want to say that at the Democratic Convention I expressed a deep respect for our constitution and the rights of We The People to elect our leaders, yet on Scandal— and this is a spoiler alert— Olivia robs her fellow Americans of that very right. Working with V-Day I’ve been part of a global movement to end violence against women and girls, but for Broomhilda von Shaft in Django, such a world is unimaginable because brutality defines her life as a slave.
Human beings are complicated, and flawed, and unique, but we all have a story to tell. Gone are the days when our lead characters can only look like somebody else. Heroes look like all of us. We see ourselves in each other’s stories. We see who we are, we see who we want to be, sometimes we see who we don’t want to be, and through that we have greater understanding of ourselves and acceptance of each other. I consider it an honor to be an advocate for the Arts and to serve on Obama’s committee for the Arts and Humanities because just as we must ensure that We The People includes all Americans regardless of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation—we must also work to ensure that the stories we tell, the movies we make, the television we produce, the theatre we stage, the novels we publish— are inclusive in all those same ways.
I stand here tonight on the shoulders of those who have blazed a path of art and activism. Harry Belafonte, I stand on your shoulders. I stand on your shoulders Diahann. I stand on your shoulders Ben, with gratitude for what you’ve sacrificed so that we can tell the stories that we are all telling. I receive this award with great humility and I hope that I may one day live up to that legacy of service. Not for me, but for us, and for the next generation of story tellers. Thank you.
—Kerry Washington’s acceptance speech for the President’s Award at the 44th NAACP Image Awards