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Danielle Brooks on the Importance of Character and Standing Up for Women Who Were 'Shut Out' of Hollywood

danielle brooks at elle's 2023 women in hollywood celebration presented by ralph lauren, harry winston and viarae
Danielle Brooks on the Importance of CharacterCharley Gallay - Getty Images
women in hollywood
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Every year, ELLE brings together the best and brightest women in Hollywood for one special night to honor the impact theyve made in the industry and the work that still needs to be done. Read 2023 Women in Hollywood honoree Danielle Brooks speech here.

Ms. O [Oprah Winfrey]—you are so special to me. The impact you’ve made on my life will permeate to my children’s children, and their children’s children, and I thank you for that.

I thank God for this moment, I don’t take any of this for granted. I’ve prayed and dreamed for moments like these as a little girl in my small town in South Carolina, so for them to have manifested in this way, and for me to have actually become a “woman in Hollywood,” I have a lot of blessings to count. First, I want to acknowledge the real MVPs of my life, my parentals. My mom and dad. Out of all the training I received from Juilliard, I’m telling you, nothing beats growing up in the Brooks household. My dad is HI-larious and my mom is dramatic, both in the best ways, but I thank them and my brother for being here. Oh, and if my dad asks you for a picture today, please just make his day and take the picture.

What I want to talk about today is character.

I believe every character we play as actresses, if you really listen to the soul of that character, they will leave you with a gift.

And the gift that Sofia has given me is the reassurance that in this very complex, unfair, unkind at times industry, it is more than okay to authentically be me. And that person is a woman who possesses strength, confidence, and who don’t take no mess. A woman who is sure of themselves without needing validation from any outside beings. Sofia was that woman. She was a woman who demanded respect from the world, who walked around like strength was her middle name and resilience was her last.

So today, in this room, as I stand before you as one, I come humbly as all of the Sofias that ever graced Hollywood. I stand in the gap today for the women who were shut out, who had to demand to be seen and heard, and sometimes when they lost that battle, they kept getting back up again, and again, and again, because they knew that this thang was bigger than them. I’m speaking for the women who were deemed too dark, or too fat, their hair didn’t lay straight enough—women that were subjected to only playing maids, mammys, and being the sassy big woman, while getting paid pennies to everyone else’s dollar. I stand in the gap for them today, Louise Beavers, Etta McDaniel, Mabel King, Isabel Sanford, Nell Carter, Esther Rolle, and to our queen supreme, Hattie McDaniel, who played a maid over 74 times in her career, and after everything she endured in this industry, she got back up again and became the first Black woman to win an Oscar. Because of their sacrifices they made in Hollywood, I get the privilege of standing before you with a multi-faceted career. And even though we still have way more glass to break, I vow to continue to demand that we be captured on screen as so much more by the roles that I choose. So, thank you ELLE and Nina Garcia for allowing me to give visibility and pay homage to the women in Hollywood who never gave up.

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