OPED: Why Oprah's speech was so effective

Elizabeth Wellington
Tribune News Service



I found the shimmering assemblage of a black-on-black red carpet at the Golden Globes on Sunday visual representation that women — from Hollywood A-listers to domestic workers — will no longer stand for the lecherous behavior of the Harvey Weinsteins, Matt Lauers, Russell Simmons, and even Sam Haskells of the world, but it was Oprah Winfrey who flawlessly nailed the message of the Time's Up movement.

Her speech was so powerful I can understand the rumors circling that Winfrey might be considering a run for president. And though I'm certainly doing the happy dance inside, an impassioned speech does not a presidential candidate make.

Still, Winfrey in all of her fabulous #blackgirlmagic connected the dots of resistance and hope like only this true queen of media can. And at the end of her short but powerful acceptance of the Globes' prestigious Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award, I believed her.

"I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon," Winfrey said in a tone that was deeper than her normal contralto. "And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say 'Me too' again."


The abuse of power is knitted deep in the fabric of our society. It's so insidious we are often blind to our participation. Think about previous red carpets where women arrived on the arms of powerful men like props — even when they are the ones receiving the awards. They were told to walk French manicures down mini-carpets to be shot by mani-cams or gush about the millions of dollars worth of jewels draped around their necks instead of talking about their projects.

I don't believe it was a coincidence that Winfrey was chosen for this award right now. The Golden Globes announced she would receive the DeMille in December, months after the New York Times outed Weinstein. On Jan. 1, the National Women's Law Center announced the creation of the Time's Up Movement, a legal defense fund to raise money for women and men to fight sexual harassment. The fund has more than $15 million in it.

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If you are a student of the Oprah-hosted Super Soul Sunday like I am, you know she doesn't believe in coincidences. What she does believe in is rising to the occasion. And that she did.

At the heart of Winfrey's beautiful speech was a call for unity. She called attention to the past in order to understand the future. She called us to live in our truth. That truth calls us to acknowledge we are all one: We breathe the same air and in the end we will all be dust. That is the power of the Oprah effect.

She took us into her mother's living room, where she watched the 1964 Academy Awards in the "cheap seats." But it didn't matter: When she saw Anne Bancroft present Sidney Poitier with an Oscar, she knew she was witnessing something momentous. Eighteen years later, Poitier accepted the award named for DeMille. It gave Winfrey and so many other children of that era — like my mother — hope.

I felt the same twinge as I watched Oprah become the first black woman to take home the DeMille Award.

She drew applause by pointing out that sexual abuse isn't just an unfortunate story in the entertainment industry, but one of all women, "transcending culture, geography, race, religion, politics, and the workplace." Instead of telling her own story of sexual assault, Winfrey graciously retold the story of Recy Taylor, a young wife and mother who in 1944 was raped by six white men while walking home from church. The NAACP took the case at the urging of Rosa Parks, but the men were never brought to justice. By bringing up Taylor's story, Oprah expanded her speech to something other than herself.

The DeMille is an award given in honor of an extraordinary career. But Oprah, as she has done throughout her time in the spotlight, decided to give a platform to another woman, to elevate another woman's story and give it credence.

With true passion in her voice, Winfrey hoped that Taylor died knowing what Winfrey believes in her heart is the truth — all women's truth, that "their time is up."

That truth, Winfrey said, "was somewhere in Rosa Parks' heart almost 11 years later, when she made the decision to stay seated on that bus in Montgomery, and it's here with every woman who chooses to say, "Me too." And every man — every man who chooses to listen."

When the camera panned to Tarana Burke, the founder of #MeToo, I saw tears in her eyes.

Everything about Sunday night's Golden Globes — from the powerful sea of black to red carpet hosts dropping the "Who are you wearing?" question to Winfrey's rousing speech — reinforced for me that entertainment has a place in social change, and that fashion is integral to that.

Not because we need the rich and famous to lead us by our impressionable noses. But because, as Winfrey proved phenomenally, that the rich and famous and everyday folk trying to survive aren't much different from one another. We all deal with pain and joy. We are all overcoming. We all have a sense of right and wrong. We are all just trying to live.

We are all just human.

Even Oprah.

"What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have," Winfrey said. "And I'm especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories. Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell, and this year we became the story."

That's true for all of us, whether we were wearing black on the red carpet or sitting in our cheap seats, wiping back tears.

— Elizabeth Wellington wrote this for the Philadelphia Inquirer.