5 Powerful Speeches From Celebrity Women

Meryl StreepGetty Images/Paul Marotta

Meryl Streep, National Board of Review Awards

Back in January, Streep presented the best actress award to Emma Thompson and her introduction would go down as the biggest, most public diss of Walt Disney. But the strong words she spoke about her friend were just as memorable.

Highlight of the Speech:Emma considers carefully what the f**k she is putting out into the culture! Emma thinks, “Is this helpful?” Not, “Will it build my brand?” Not, “Will it give me billions?” Not, “Does this express me? Me! Me! My unique and fabulous self, into all eternity, in every universe, for all time!” That’s a phrase from my Disney contract. I’m serious! “Will I get a sequel out of it, or a boat? Or a perfume contract?” (Read the full speech here.)

Lesson Learned: There’s something to be said for actors and artists who are legitimately concerned with their craft and the stories behind the work they’re doing. In a pop culture, celebrity-obsessed world that celebrates the brand, it’s important to celebrate people like Thompson as well.

Lupita Nyong’oBlack Women in Hollywood Luncheon

In February Nyong’o accepted the Best Breakthrough Performance Award at Essence Magazine’s Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon. Instead of speaking merely from her own heart, she spoke from the heart of a fan who’d sent her a powerful and heartbreaking letter.

Highlight of the Speech: “Dear Lupita,” it reads, “I think you’re really lucky to be this Black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.” I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin…my mother again would say to me, “You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you.”… And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What does sustain us… what is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master, but it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit even after the beauty of her body has faded away. (Read the full speech here.)

Lesson Learned: It’s wonderful that we are embracing Lupita Nyong’o’s beauty, and that we’re expanding the concept of beauty itself. And it’s wonderful that a young girl can look at Nyong’o and choose to embrace her own skin color. But it’s also important that we teach people that who you are at your core (call it essence, or spirit, or personality) is something more powerful, more memorable, and more lasting than physical appearance.

Amy Schumer, Ms. Foundation for Women Gloria Awards and Gala

In a hilariously NSFW speech the comedian opened up about an awkward sexual encounter that could have been more traumatic, were it not for her sense of humor. She spoke about turning that moment into an empowering instance of change.

Highlight of the Speech:  I can be reduced to that lost college freshman so quickly sometimes, I want to quit. Not performing, but being a woman altogether. I want to throw my hands in the air, after reading a mean Twitter comment, and say, “All right! You got it. You figured me out. I’m not pretty. I’m not thin. I do not deserve to use my voice. I’ll start wearing a burqa and start waiting tables at a pancake house. All my self-worth is based on what you can see.” But then I think, F**k that. I am not laying in that freshman year bed anymore ever again. I am a woman with thoughts and questions and s**t to say. I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story — I will. I will speak and share and f**k and love and I will never apologize to the frightened millions who resent that they never had it in them to do it. I stand here and I am amazing, for you. Not because of you. I am not who I sleep with. I am not my weight. I am not my mother. I am myself. And I am all of you, and I thank you. (Read the full speech here.)

Lesson Learned: First of all, we should all stop being hateful towards people (yes, even celebrity people) on Twitter. And secondly, sometimes you have to get out of that freshman year bed, dust yourself off, stop apologizing, and go be your incredible self. 

Gabourey Sidibe, Ms. Foundation for Women Gloria Awards and Gala

In another fantastic speech about confidence, Sidibe did what few of us expected her to do and actually admitted to being “an a**hole” in school. But in admitting to her flaws she also exposed the flaws of an entire industry that repeatedly asks her (and not someone like Rihanna) “How are you so confident?”

Highlight of the Speech: I was a snob. I thought I was better than the kids in my class, and I let them know it. That’s why they didn’t like me. I think the reason I thought so highly of myself all the time was because no one else ever did… Sometimes when I’m being interviewed by a fashion reporter, I can see it in her eyes, “How is she getting away with this? Why is she so confident? How does she deal with that body? Oh my God, I’m going to catch fat!”
What I would say, is my mom moved my brother and I to my aunt’s house. Her name is Dorothy Pitman Hughes, she is a feminist, an activist, and a lifelong friend of Gloria Steinem. Every day, I had to get up and go to school where everyone made fun of me, and I had to go home to where everyone made fun of me… In the morning on the way out to the world, I passed by a portrait of my aunt and Gloria together. Side by side they stood, one with long beautiful hair and one with the most beautiful, round, Afro hair I had ever seen, both with their fists held high in the air. Powerful. Confident. And every day as I would leave the house… I would give that photo a fist right back. And I’d march off into battle. [She starts crying] I didn’t know that I was being inspired then. (Read the full speech here.)

Lesson Learned: It’s not always the direct influence of a person, but sometimes it’s something simpler — a photo, an image, an idea you hear about — that changes your life and changes your way of looking at things.