15 Iconic Oscar Winner Speeches That Paved the Way for Today's Black Nominees at the 96th Academy Awards

These acceptance speeches remind us that representation truly matters.

The 96th annual Academy Awards are days away, and like our sis Issa Rae, we're rooting for everybody Black.

This year, some of Hollywood's brightest stars became first-time nominees, including Danielle Brooks, Sterling K. Brown, Colman Domingo, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, and Jeffrey Wright.

Our queens will be unapologetically representing at this year's ceremony. Randolph–who has already racked up major wins this award season with a BAFTA, a SAG, and a Golden Globe– secured a Supporting Actress nomination for her role in "The Holdovers, while Brooks joins her in the same category for the 2023 adaption of "The Color Purple."

And the brothas are holding it down in their respective categories, too. Wright, who won an SAG award earlier this year, is nominated for Best Actor. Brown, recognized for Supporting Actor, showcased their talents in "American Fiction," a film honored with Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay nominations.

Domingo earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his compelling portrayal of Bayard Rustin in Netflix's "Rustin."

As we proudly celebrate these nominees, let's pay homage to those who have made history.

Here are 15 iconic Oscar acceptance speeches from the past from Black actors who continue to inspire hope for a more equitable and melanin-enriched future in the arts.

  • Halle Berry

    In 2002, this actor made history as the first Black woman to win an Oscar for Actress In A Leading Role for "Monster's Ball."

    In her speech, she dedicated her win to pioneers who came before her and those who she revered as a community of support.

    "This moment is so much bigger than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It's for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it's for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened."

    She also showed gratitude to her mom.

    "I want to thank my mom who has given me the strength to fight every single day to be who I want to be and to give me the courage to dream, that this dream might be happening and possible for me."

  • Denzel Washington

    Washington won his second Oscar in 2002 for Actor In A Leading Role for his iconic role in "Training Day." While accepting his award, Washington reflected on a moment he had in college when he was faced with the decision to conform to the status quo or to assert his own path.

    "When I was in college first starting out as an actor, they asked each one of us what we wanted to do. I said I want to be the best actor in the world," he recounted.

    "All the students in the classroom looked at me like I was a nut. Life has taught me to just try and be the best that I can be, and I thank the Academy for saying to me that on this given night I was the best that I could be."

  • Hattie McDaniel

    Hattie McDaniel - 1895 – 1952<br><br>Hattie McDaniel is best known as the first African American to win an Academy Award for her iconic performance in “Gone with the Wind.” She paved the way for minority actresses to break into mainstream movies, but few know the battle that McDaniel fought with breast cancer that ultimately claimed her life at 57 years old.
    Hattie McDaniel - 1895 – 1952<br><br>Hattie McDaniel is best known as the first African American to win an Academy Award for her iconic performance in “Gone with the Wind.” She paved the way for minority actresses to break into mainstream movies, but few know the battle that McDaniel fought with breast cancer that ultimately claimed her life at 57 years old.

    McDaniel shattered glass ceilings in 1940 when she became the first Black person to win an Academy Award. She won for Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal as Mammy in "Gone with the Wind."

    "This is one of the happiest moments of my life, and I want to thank each one of you who had a part in selecting me for one of the awards for your kindness," she said in part during her acceptance speech. "It has made me feel very, very humble and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything I may be able to do in the future."

    She continued, "I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry. My heart is too full to tell you just how I feel. And may I say thank you and God bless you."

  • Lupita Nyong'o

    In 2013, Nyong'o had her break-out role in "12 Years a Slave." A year later, she won Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal as "Patsey," whom she saluted while taking center stage.

    "It doesn't escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else's. And so I want to salute the spirit of "Patsey" for her guidance," she said.

    "When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you're from your dreams are valid," she concluded.

  • Whoopi Goldberg

    Back in 1991, this actor and "The View" co-host beat out the competition when she secured a win for Actress in a Supporting Role for the 1990 film, "Ghost." During her speech, she reflected on her early days before fame and fortune, while vowing to stay committed to her craft.

    "Ever since I was a little kid I wanted this," she said."

    "I come from New York. As a little kid I lived in the projects, and you're the people I watched. You're the people wanted—made me want to be an actor. I'm so proud to be here. I'm proud to be an actor and I'm gonna keep on acting."

  • Will Smith

    Moments before Smith was announced the winner in the Best Actor category for "King Richard," in 2022, he slapped Chris Rock live onstage after he made a joke at the expense of his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith.

    While accepting his award, Smith had an emotionally charged speech while recognizing Serena Williams and Venus Williams's dad, Richard Williams. He also discussed his journey as a "protector."

    "Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family. In this time in my life, in this moment, I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do and be in this world. Making this film I got to protect Aunjanue Ellis, who was one of the most, the strongest, most delicate people I've ever met. I got to protect Saniyya [Sidney] and Demi [Singleton], the two actresses that played Venus and Serena," he said.

    " I'm being called on in my life to love people, and to protect people, and to be a river to my people. Now, I know to do what we do you gotta be able to take abuse, you gotta be able to have people talk crazy about you," he explained. "In this business, you gotta be able to have people disrespecting you and you gotta smile and you gotta pretend like that's okay."

    He continued, "I want to say thank you to Venus and Serena and the entire Williams family for entrusting me with your story. That's what I want to do. I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern."

    Smith also offered an apology to the Academy.

    "I want to apologize to the Academy. I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees. This is a beautiful moment, and I'm not, I'm not crying for winning an award. It's not about winning an award for me. It's about being able to shine light on all of the people. But, love will make you do crazy things," he added.

  • Forest Whitaker

    In 2007 Whitaker gave a heartwarming speech when he was crowned Best Actor in a Leading Role for The "Last King of Scotland." While addressing the audience, he reflected on his early influences in the arts as a young boy.

    "When I was a kid, the only way that I saw movies was from the backseat of my family's car at the drive-in, and it wasn't my reality to think I would be acting in movies," he said. "So receiving this honor tonight tells me that it's possible, it is possible for a kid from east Texas, raised in South Central L.A., in Carson, who believes in his dreams, commits himself to them with his heart, to touch them and to have them happen."

    "When I first started acting, it was because of my desire to connect to everyone, to that thing inside each of us, that light that I believe exists in all of us. Because acting for me is about believing in that connection; and it's a connection so strong, it's a connection so deep that we feel it and through our combined belief we can create a new reality," he added."

  • Mahershala Ali

    Back in 2019, Ali won Actor in a Supporting Role for "Green Book." While accepting this award, he gave a tribute to his grandmother whose encouragement propelled him to success.

    "I wanna dedicate this to my grandmother who has been in my ear my entire life, telling me that if at first I don't succeed, try, try again. That I could do anything I put my mind to. Always, always pushing me to think positively," she explained. "And I know that I would not be here without her, that she has gotten me over the hump every step of the way."

  • Viola Davis

    In 2016, Davis starred alongside Denzel Washington in the critically acclaimed film adaptation of August Wilson's "Fences." Her role as Rose Maxson led to her win for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

    "You know, there's one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered. One place. And that's the graveyard," she said during her acceptance speech. "People ask me all the time, "What kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola?" And I say, exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost."

    She added, "I became an artist, and thank god I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life. So here's to August Wilson, who exhumed and exalted the ordinary people."

  • Daniel Kaluuya

    Kaluuya stepped into the shoes of Black Panther social activist, Fred Hampton in 2020's "Judas and the Black Messiah." A year later, he won Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his portrayal.

    During his acceptance speech, he honored the contributions of members of the movement.

    "How blessed we are that we lived in a lifetime where he existed, do you understand? You know what I mean?" he said. "He was on this earth for 21 years, 21 years, and he found a way to feed kids breakfast, educate kids, give free medical care, against all the odds."

    "He, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, the Black Panther Party – they showed me how to love myself. And with that love they overflowed it to the Black community and to other communities. And they showed us that the power of union, the power of unity, that when they play divide and conquer, we say unite and ascend."

  • Jordan Peele

    In 2017, Peele was at the helm of the movie of the year, "Get Out." That film would go on to win Best Original Screenplay for Peele. But, it almost didn't happen. During his acceptance speech, Peele explained why.

    "I stopped writing this movie about twenty times because I thought it was impossible. I thought it wasn't gonna work. I thought no one would ever make this movie," he said. "But I kept coming back to it because I knew if someone let me make this movie, that people would hear it, and people would see it. So, I want to dedicate this to all the people who raised my voice and let me make this movie."

  • Common and John Legend

    This duo teamed up to produce one of the most buzzed-about songs of our time in 2014 with "Glory." In 2015, the single won for Best Original Song.

    While accepting the award, both artists reflected on the impact of the song and how it was curated to instill hope.

    Recently John and I got to go to Selma and perform "Glory" on the same bridge that Dr. King and the people of the civil rights movement marched on fifty years ago," said Common. "This bridge was once a landmark of a divided nation but now is a symbol for change. The spirit of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and social status. The spirit of this bridge connects the kid from the South Side of Chicago dreaming of a better life, to those in France standing up for their freedom of expression, to the people in Hong Kong protesting for democracy. This bridge was built on hope, welded with compassion and elevated by love for all human beings."

    "We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were fifty years ago, but we say that Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now, Legend added." We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for fifty years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you we are with you, we see you, we love you, and march on. God bless you."

  • Spike Lee

    In 2018, Lee's "BlacKkKlansman," premiered in theaters, and a year later, it won Best Adapted Screenplay.

    When Lee arrived on stage, he acknowledged the "irony" of the night and then ended his speech by serving the audience with a call to action.

    "The word today is "irony." The date: the 24th. The month: February. Which also happens to be the shortest month of the year. Which also happens to be Black History Month. The year: 2019. The year: 1619. History. Herstory. 1619 to 2019, 400 years. Four hundred years. Our ancestors were stolen from Mother Africa and brought to Jamestown, Virginia, enslaved," he explained.

    "Our ancestors worked the land from can't-see-in-the-morning to can't-see-at-night. My grandmother, Zimmie Shelton Retha, who lived to be 100 years young, who was a Spelman College graduate even though her mother was a slave. My grandma, who saved 50 years of social security checks to put her first grandchild — she called me Spikie-poo — she put me through Morehouse College and NYU grad film. NYU!"

    He continued, "The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let's all mobilize. Let's all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let's do the right thing! You know I had to get that in there!"

  • Ariana DeBose

    In 2022, DeBose won Actress in a Supporting Role for "West Side Story." While accepting her award, she referenced her role as Anita in the film.

    "You know what, now you see why that Anita says, "I want to be in America." Because even in this weary world that we live in dreams do come true. And that's really a heartening thing right now."

    She concluded her speech by painting an illustration that demonstrates the power of representation.

    "So, lastly, imagine this little girl in the backseat of a white Ford Focus. Look into her eyes. You see a queer, openly queer, woman of color, an Afro-Latina, who found her strength in life through art," she explained. "And that's what I believe we're here to celebrate."

    "So, to anybody who has ever questioned your identity -- ever, ever, ever -- or you find yourself living in the gray spaces, I promise you this: There is indeed a place for us."

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