HOLLYWOOD REPORTER WOMEN IN ENTERTAINMENT SPEECH
Delivered December 10, 2014
Los Angeles, California
When my publicist called to tell me that I was receiving this honor, I screwed up
my face and I said, “Are you sure? Me?”
And he said, “Yes.”
And I said, “Why?”
And then I said, “No really, WHY?”
And I made him call and ask for some written reason why I was getting this
award. Because I really and truly was worried that there might have been some
kind of mistake.
I want to pause for a beat here to say that I don’t say these things to be self-
deprecating and humble. I am not a self-deprecating, humble person. I think I’m
pretty fantastic. But I also think that the Hollywood Reporter Sherry Lansing Award
is extraordinary—as is Sherry Lansing herself.
So . . . no, really, WHY?
They sent a written reason why I was getting this award. It said many nice
things but the main thing that it said was that I was getting the award in
recognition of my breaking through the industry’s glass ceiling as a woman and
I call my publicist back.
Because I just don’t know about this. I mean, I’m concerned now.
I come from a very large, very competitive family. Extremely competitive. And
by competitive, I mean, my mother says we’re not allowed to play Scrabble
anymore when we get together because of the injuries and the tears. One of the
rules in my family is you don’t ever get a trophy for participation, you don’t get a
trophy for just being you. So getting an award today BECAUSE I’m a woman
and an African-American feels . . .
I was born with an awesome vagina and really gorgeous brown skin.
I didn’t do anything to make either of those things happen.
To get all Beyoncé about it, people: “I woke up like this.”
I know this isn’t an award because I’m a woman or BECAUSE I’m African-
American. I know that it’s really about breaking the glass ceiling that exists in the
face of being a woman and being black in this very male, very white town.
But I haven’t broken through any glass ceilings.
“Do they know I haven’t broken through any glass ceilings?” I ask my
He assures me that I have. I assure him that I have not.
I have not broken through any glass ceilings.
If I had broken through any glass ceilings, I would know.
If I had broken through a glass ceiling, I would have felt some cuts, I would
have some bruises. There’d be shards of glass in my hair. I’d be bleeding, I’d have
If I’d broken the glass ceiling, that would mean I would have made it through
to the other side. Where the air is rare. I would feel the wind on my face. The
view from here—way up here where the glass ceiling is broken—would be
So how come I don’t remember the moment? When me with my woman-
ness and my brown skin went running full speed, gravity be damned, into that
thick layer of glass and smashed right through it?
How come I don’t remember that happening?
This moment right here, me standing up here all brown with my boobs and
my Thursday night of network television full of women of color, competitive
women, strong women, women who own their bodies and whose lives revolve
around their work instead of their men, women who are big dogs? That could
only be happening right now.
Think about it.
Look around this room. It’s filled with women of all colors in Hollywood
who are executives and heads of studios and VPs and show creators and directors.
There are a lot of women in Hollywood in this room who have the game-
changing ability to say yes or no to something.
Fifteen years ago, that would not have been as true. There’d have been maybe
a few women in Hollywood who could say yes or no. And a lot of D girls and
assistants who were gritting their teeth and working really hard. And for someone
like me, if I was very very VERY lucky, there’d have been maybe one small
show. One small shot. And that shot would not have involved a leading actress of
color, any three-dimensional LGBT characters, any women characters with high-
powered jobs AND families, and no more than two characters of color in any
scene at one time—because that only happened in sitcoms.
Thirty years ago, I’d think maybe there’d be a thousand secretaries fending off
their handsy bosses back at the office and about two women in Hollywood in this
room. And if I were here, I would be serving those two women breakfast.
Fifty years ago, if women wanted to gather in a room . . . well, it had better be
about babies or charity work. And the brown women would be in one room
over there and the white women would be in another room over here . . .
From then to now . . . we’ve all made such an incredible leap.
Think of all of them.
Fifty years ago trying to get out of separate rooms, thirty years ago trying to
not serve breakfast or be groped by their bosses, fifteen years ago trying to make
clear that they could run a department as well as that guy over there.
All the women, white or black or brown, who woke up like this, who came
before me in this town.
Think of them.
Heads up, eyes on the target.
Running. Full speed. Gravity be damned.
Toward that thick layer of glass that is the ceiling.
Running, full speed, and crashing.
Crashing into that ceiling and falling back.
Crashing into it and falling back.
Into it and falling back.
Woman after woman.
Each one running and each one crashing.
And everyone falling.
How many women had to hit that glass before the first crack appeared?
How many cuts did they get, how many bruises? How hard did they have to
hit the ceiling? How many women had to hit that glass to ripple it, to send out a
thousand hairline fractures?
How many women had to hit that glass before the pressure of their effort
caused it to evolve from a thick pane of glass into just a thin sheet of splintered
So that when it was my turn to run, it didn’t even look like a ceiling anymore.
I mean, the wind was already whistling through—I could always feel it on my
face. And there were all these holes giving me a perfect view to the other side. I
didn’t even notice the gravity, I think it had already worn itself away. So I didn’t
have to fight as hard. I had time to study the cracks. I had time to decide where
the air felt the rarest, where the wind was the coolest, where the view was the
most soaring. I picked my spot in the glass and I called it my target.
And I ran.
And when I finally hit that ceiling, it just exploded into dust.
My sisters who went before me had already handled it.
No cuts. No bruises. No bleeding.
Making it through the glass ceiling to the other side was simply a matter of
running on a path created by every other woman’s footprints.
I just hit at exactly the right time in exactly the right spot.
So I’m breaking my family’s rule today.
This is a trophy for participation.
And I am beyond honored and proud to receive it.
Because this? Was a group effort.
Thank you to all the women in this room.
Thank you to all the women who never made it into this room.
And thank you to all the women who will hopefully fill a room one hundred
times this size when we are all gone.
You are all an inspiration.
Excerpt from Year of Yes
Image Credit: The Hollywood Reporter