Leave it to one little mistake to hijack all the Oscars.
Hey, I get it. When something goes according to plan, it’s not news: It’s business as usual. When something goes wrong—like, switching envelopes for the biggest award of the night wrong—people are bound to talk about it.
But if it hadn’t been for that strange switcheroo, you know what people would’ve been talking about? Viola Davis’ acceptance speech.
For all of Oscar’s sometime unpredictability (see above), Davis’ Oscar for Best Supporting Actress was the night’s surest bet. And indeed, her performance in Fences was incredible. But perhaps it was no more so than the speech she gave last night—a speech which Jimmy Kimmel quipped “just won an Emmy.”
“You know, there is one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered,” Davis began. “One place. And that’s the graveyard. 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.
“I became an artist and thank God I did,” she continued, “because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”
I’m not sure if acting is the only profession that does that. But I love the sentiment behind the statement.
It can seem sometimes like we live in a world not made for us. We feel like bit players on its stage, asterisked afterthoughts to the rich and powerful. The politicians. The magnates. The movie stars. La La Land, for all its strengths, feeds into that narrative. The movie works because Mia (Emma Stone) dared dream and saw her dream come true—a classic Hollywood fairy tale. “Maybe I’m not good enough,” she tells beau Sebastian. But she is good enough because of course she is.
But while Mia’s story is great and all, there’s also a poignant beauty in those other stories. The stories of the people who, in Davis’ words, “dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition, people who fell in love and lost.”
But you know what? We’ve all seen our dreams break and crumble, too. And if our wins make us happy, our losses simply … make us. They shape us. Mold us. Nearly break us. But after—sometimes long after—we find we can still smile. We still live, and that the life we have is still worth living.
That broken dream? Maybe, looking back, we’re glad it broke.
If La La Land’s Mia never made it big—if she went back to school like she threatened to do—would her life be any less worthy? I don’t think so.
There’s a beauty in the broken. Davis, in every role I’ve seen her in, finds that beauty. It’s inspiring and heartbreaking in the very same breath and it reminds us, so much, of us. That’s what “to live a life” means sometimes. To suffer and survive. To cast aside a dream and, maybe, find another.
Davis understands the quiet, glorious dignity in the commonplace. It’s a sense that, as Christians, we should also understand. Our God is an egalitarian deity: He does not, as far as I know, give the worldly rich and powerful better plots in heaven. And, of course, His dreams for us are not always our dreams.
In a night filled with red carpets and six-figure swag bags, in an auditorium filled with Hollywood’s brightest stars glimmering in gold and diamonds, Davis reminded us all that they are no more deserving of honor than the stay-at-home mom who wakes up every day to cook her kids breakfast. The guy who drives a bus. The pastor who preaches to 50 souls every Sunday.
During her speech, Davis singled out Denzel Washington, Fences director and her co-star. “Thank you for putting two entities in the driving seat,” she said. “August (Fences playwright August Wilson) and God. And they served you well.”
Maybe that’s the real beauty of living a life well. Putting other things in the driver’s seat. You give up a little bit of your life to make your kids’ lives that much better. You give a little something for your spouse. You tell God, “Thy will be done.” You accept the pain of life and keep on living.
There’s a beauty in that. Thanks, Viola Davis, for reminding us.