10 Oscar Winners Who Used Their Acceptance Speeches To Make A Statement

From climate change to gay rights.

This year's award season has featured quite a bit of political commentary, not only from the shows' comedic hosts, but also from the winners. Honorees such as Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes and Mahershala Ali at the SAG Awards have used their speeches as an opportunity to speak out against injustice and spread a message of acceptance.

Considering current events, it's safe to say this Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony will be just as political, if not more. But it would be far from the first time Oscar winners have utilized their platform to make a statement, raise awareness, or promote activism. Some have highlighted the issues addressed in their winning films, while others have touched on unrelated but equally important topics. 

Below, check out 10 examples of past Oscar winners who used their speeches to do much more than just thank their co-stars.


1. Leonardo DiCaprio (2016)

After five acting nominations, last year, Leonardo DiCaprio finally took home his first Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in The Revenant. It should come as no surprise that the environmental activist used his big speech to bring attention to the issue of climate change — and created the most-tweeted Oscars moment in the process:

Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most affected by this ... Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted.

2. Patricia Arquette (2015)

When Patricia Arquette won her first Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Boyhood, she began her speech by thanking the film's cast and crew, as well as her family and friends. But she ended it with an impassioned criticism of the gender wage gap that had the audience — including her fellow nominee Meryl Streep — cheering in their seats:

To every woman who gave birth to every tax payer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else's equal rights. It's our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.

3. Dustin Lance Black (2009)

Dustin Lance Black won Best Original Screenplay for penning the script for Milk, which told the true story of gay rights activist Harvey Milk (played by fellow winner Sean Penn). Black shared how Milk's story inspired him as a gay teenager and gave him hope for the future.

If Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he'd want me to say, to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their churches, or by the government, or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value, and that, no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you, and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights, federally, across this great nation of ours.

4. Halle Berry (2002)

Halle Berry's win for Monster's Ball marked the first time a Black woman won the Oscar for Best Actress. Berry sobbed through her speech, in which she paid tribute to actresses who came before her and emphasized what her win meant for the future of women of color in the film industry:

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

5. Hilary Swank (2000)

Hilary Swank won Best Actress for her role in Boys Don't Cry as Brandon Teena, a young transgender man who was raped and murdered in 1993. She took the opportunity during her acceptance speech to pay tribute to Teena and the lessons she took away from his story:

Last but certainly not least, I want to thank Brandon Teena for being such an inspiration to us all. His legacy lives on through our movie, to remind us to always be ourselves, to follow our hearts, to not conform. I pray for the day when we not only accept our differences, but we actually celebrate our diversity.

6. Tom Hanks (1994)

Tom Hanks received his first Oscar for Best Actor for Philadelphia, in which he played a lawyer with HIV who sues his employers for firing him because of his condition. Hanks tearfully dedicated his award to his gay drama teacher and former classmate, and to those who lost their lives to AIDS.

I know that my work in this case is magnified by the fact that the streets of heaven are too crowded with angels. We know their names. They number a thousand for each one of the red ribbons that we wear here tonight. They finally rest in the warm embrace of the gracious creator of us all. A healing embrace that cools their fevers, that clears their skin, and allows their eyes to see the simple, self-evident, common sense truth that is made manifest by the benevolent creator of us all, and was written down on paper by wise men, tolerant men, in the city of Philadelphia 200 years ago.

7. Marlon Brando (1973)

When Marlon Brando won Best Actor for The Godfather, he caused a stir by sending Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather on stage in his place. She declined the award on Brando's behalf and explained that the actor had given her a long speech, which she was unable to share in its entirety:

He very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award, and the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry, and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee. I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening, and that we will, in the future, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and generosity.

8. Julianne Moore (2015)

Julianne Moore won Best Actress for her role as a college professor with early onset Alzheimer's disease in Still Alice. Moore made sure to mention those suffering from the disease in her acceptance speech and highlight how film can bring greater awareness to these important issues:

I'm so happy — I'm thrilled, actually — that we were able to hopefully shine a light on Alzheimer's disease. So many people with this disease feel isolated and marginalized, and one of the wonderful things about movies is that it makes us feel seen and not alone. And people with Alzheimer's deserve to be seen so that we can find a cure.

9. Ang Lee (2006)

Ang Lee won Best Director for his work on Brokeback Mountain., based on Annie Proulx's story of the romance between two cowboys. Lee paid tribute to Proulx and her characters for the lessons they imparted about love and acceptance:

First of all, I want to thank two people who don't even exist. Or I should say, they do exist because of the imagination of Annie Proulx and the artistry of [screenwriters] Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. Their names are Ennis and Jack, and they taught all of us who made Brokeback Mountain so much about not just all the gay men and women whose love is denied by society, but just as important, the greatness of love itself.

10. Cate Blanchett (2014)

Cate Blanchett used her Best Actress win (for her lead role in Blue Jasmine) as a call to action for Hollywood to make more movies focused on women's stories — an argument which continues to be relevant year after year:

I'm so very proud that Blue Jasmine stayed in the cinemas for as long as it did, and thank you to to Sony Classics ... for so bravely and intelligently distributing the film, and to the audiences who went to see it, and perhaps those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them, and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people!

Find out who will deliver the next great speech when the 89th Academy Awards air on ABC this Sunday, February 26, at 8:30 p.m. ET.


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