Kerry Washington put on her best “white hat” Saturday to deliver a moving speech at the 26th GLAAD Media Awards.
The actress, who plays Washington, D.C., fixer Olivia Pope on ABC’s “Scandal,” did a bit of proselytizing regarding the LGBT community when she accepted her Vanguard Award from Ellen DeGeneres at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills.
Clad in a plunging Hellessy gown, Washington took the stage and the energy was palpable when she dove into her crusading monologue.
DeGeneres said that Washington “has consistently taken on characters that encourage acceptance of the people around us even if they’re different and especially if they’re underrepresented.” She added that the Golden Globe-nominated star was “not afraid to fight for the underdog” and “challenges our hearts and our minds.”
The 38-year-old actress thanked DeGeneres and her wife, actress Portia de Rossi, who also appears on “Scandal,” and gave a shout-out to ShondaLand -- screenwriter Shonda Rhimes’ production company, which produces “Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How To Get Away With Murder.” The last of those took home one of the evening’s top prizes, for drama series.
“Being an ally means a great deal to me, and so I am going to say some stuff -- and I might be preaching to the choir but I’m gonna say it, not just for us, because on Monday morning, people are gonna click a link to hear what that woman from ‘Scandal’ said on that awards show,” Washington started. “And, so I think some stuff needs to be said.”
Admit it, isn’t that what you’re doing right now?
“There are people in this world who have the full rights of citizenship, in our communities, our countries and around the world. And then there are those of us who, to varying degrees, do not. We don’t have equal access to education, to healthcare and some other basic liberties like marriage, a fair voting process, fair hiring practices,” Washington said. “Now, you would think that those of us who are kept from our full rights of citizenship would band together and fight the good fight. But history tells us that no, often we don’t.”
“Women, poor people, people of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people, inter-sex people, we have been pitted against each other and made to feel like there are limited seats at the table for those of us that fall into the category of ‘other.’ As a result, we have become afraid of one another. We compete with one another, we judge one another, sometimes we betray one another. Sometimes even within our own communities, we designate who among us is best suited to represent us and who, really, shouldn’t even really be invited to the party,” she said. “As ‘others,’ we are taught to be successful we must reject those other ‘others’ or we will never belong.”
The “Django Unchained” actress and “Boston Legal” alum said she earned her award because she plays “characters that belong to segments of society that are often pushed to the margins.”
“Now, as a woman and as a person of color, I don’t always have a choice about that. But I’ve also made the choice to participate in the storytelling about the members of the LGBT community. I’ve made the choice to play a lot of different kinds of people in a lot of different kinds of situations. In my career, I’ve not been afraid of inhabiting characters who are judged and who are misunderstood and who have not been granted full rights of citizenship as human beings,” she continued.
“But here’s the great irony: I don’t decide to play the characters I play as a political choice. Yet the characters I play often do become political statements. Because having your story told as a woman, as a person of color, as a lesbian or as a trans person or as any member of any disenfranchised community is sadly often still a radical idea. There is so much power in storytelling and there is enormous power in inclusive storytelling and inclusive representations.”
That’s when she promoted GLAAD’s work and called for more diverse LGBT representation in the media in the form of more LGBT characters and storytelling.
“And by that, I mean lots of kinds of different kinds of LGBT people, living all kinds of lives and this is big -- we need more employment of LGBT people in front of and behind the camera!"
That’s when she received a standing ovation and got a little more emotional. She then dove into a brief history lesson about DeGeneres’ public coming-out in 1997 and how it took place just months after the Defense of Marriage Act had passed and civil unions were not yet legal in any state.
“But also remember, just 30 years before that, the Supreme Court was deciding that the ban against interracial marriages was unconstitutional. Up until then, heterosexual people of different races couldn’t marry who they wanted to marry either,” Washington said. “So when black people today tell me that they don’t believe in gay marriage, the first thing that I say is, ‘Please don’t let anybody try to get you to vote against your own best interest by feeding you messages of hate.’ And then I say, ‘You know people used to stay that stuff like that about you and your love and if we let the government start to legislate love in our lifetime, who do you think is next?’”
She continued: “We can’t say that we believe in each other’s fundamental humanity and then turn a blind eye to the reality of each other’s existence and the truth of each other’s hearts. We must be allies and we must be allies in this business because to be represented is to be humanized and as long as anyone, anywhere is being made to feel less human, our very definition of humanity is at stake and we are all vulnerable.”
“We must see each other -- all of us -- and we must see ourselves -- all of us. And we have to continue to be bold and break new ground until that is just how it is. Until we are no longer ‘firsts’ and ‘exceptions’ and ‘rare’ and ‘unique.’ In the real world, being an other is the norm. In the real world, the only norm is uniqueness and our media must reflect that. Thank you GLAAD for fighting the good fight. God bless you."
The GLAAD Media Awards recognize and honor media for fair, accurate and inclusive representations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and the issues that affect their lives. It also funds GLAAD’s work to promote more stories from the community to build support for equality. It served up 18 of 31 awards on Saturday and drew a number of celebrity guests.
Follow me on Twitter @NardineSaad.