“This year, we became the story.”- Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey became the first black woman to receive the Cecil B. de Mille award during this year’s Golden Globe Awards, the 75th anniversary of the event. She delivered an electrifying and presidential speech that speaks to the intersection of black civil rights and feminist causes.
Oprah began her speech with a vivid invocation of a childhood memory:
In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscar for best actor at the 36th Academy Awards. She opened the envelope and said five words that literally made history: “The winner is Sidney Poitier.” Up to the stage came the most elegant man I had ever seen. I remember his tie was white, and of course his skin was black, and I had never seen a black man being celebrated like that. I tried many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door bone tired from cleaning other people’s houses. But all I can do is quote and say that the explanation can be found in Sidney’s performance in “Lilies of the Field”: “Amen, amen, amen, amen.”
Her opening lines had an indisputable power. They brought us into the room with her, to see what she saw, allowing us to feel what she longed for—and better appreciate the thrust of her moment-seizing speech.
For us at Narativ, her opening serves as a pristine example of what we call the “what happened” method. The speaker excludes everything but what the five senses can see as they describe an event, person or place. If you compare the rapt attention her brief story commanded, it would be at least on par with the significance of all that followed.
In saying “what happened” as she watched the 36th Golden Globes in 1964 Oprah laid a foundation to talk about change and to encourage her audience, especially that of women in entertainment, and perhaps most importantly, a diverse generation of young girls, to make this moment in history a turning point for women’s and civil rights.
Without listening, there can be no storytelling.
“Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell.” – Oprah Winfrey