Viola Davis Delivers Powerful Message of Self-Acceptance: ‘The Privilege of a Lifetime Is Being Who You Are’

Viola Davis delivered some very powerful words at the Critics’ Choice Awards Sunday night.

The actress, who won the best supporting actress award for her role in Fences and is nominated for best actress in a drama series for How to Get Away with Murder, was also the recipient of the first-ever #SeeHer award. The award, presented by the Association of National Advertisers in conjunction with A&E, honored Davis for her work furthering the movement’s efforts to accurately portray women and girls in the media.

Actress Amy Adams presented Davis with the award and Emma Stone led the standing ovation for the star, who took the stage to deafening applause.

“Thank you,” said Davis, 51, who was clearly emotional. “It’s hard to accept being a role model for women when you’re trying to lose weight.”

“I’ve always discovered the heart of my characters by asking: ‘Why?’ ” she continued. “When I was handed Annalise Keating  I said: ‘She’s sexy, she’s mysterious … I’m used to playing women that have to gain 40 lbs. and wear an apron.”

“So I said: ‘Oh, I’ve got to lose weight, I’ve got to learn how to walk like Kerry Washington in heels,’ …” she went on. “And then I asked myself: ‘Well, why do I have to do all of that?’ ”

“I truly believe that the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are and I just recently embraced that at 51,” she said.

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Davis went on to say that she believes her “strongest power” lies in her portrayal of Keating, HTGAWM‘s high-powered defense attorney.

“At 10 p.m. every Thursday night I want you to come into my world,” she said. “I’m not going to come into yours. You can come into mine. My size, my hue, my age and you sit. And you experience. And I think that’s the only power I have as an artist. So I thank you for this award and I do see her, just like I see me.”


RELATED VIDEO: Viola Davis Goes Deep on the Characters That Define Her and the Difficult Childhood She Rose Above


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And the evening is certainly shaping up beautifully for the star: Davis took the stage again shortly afterwards to accept the best supporting actress award for her role in Fences, thanking her costar and director Denzel Washington, as well the cast and crew, for honoring late playwright August Wilson, who wrote the original 1983 play.

“Thank you so much … for having the courage and the vision to bring August Wilson to the screen,” she said. “But most importantly: the leader, the captain, Denzel Washington, who said the two scariest words an actor can ever hear: ‘Trust me.’ ”

“Usually that’s because you can’t trust a lot of people with a performance in this business,” she added. “But we trusted you, you delivered as a leader and you’ve made us proud and most importantly, you’ve made August proud. Thank you very much.”

The Critics’ Choice Awards, hosted by T.J. Miller and presented in partnership with Entertainment Weekly, are airing live Sunday night on A&E.