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Ava DuVernay called for social action and praised critics for honoring When They See Us during her acceptance speech for best limited series at the 2020 Critics Choice Awards.
“Thank you to the critics for finally letting us take the stage,” Duvernay said after receiving a standing ovation as she and the rest of the Netflix series’ cast and crew took to the stage.
The Critics’ Choice win comes after When They See Us failed to earn any nominations from the Golden Globes and only won two of the 16 awards for which it was nominated at the 2019 Emmys.
The When They See Us creator also acknowledged the sheer amount of work and person power — including 179 actors and 312 crewmembers — involved in producing the four-part, five-hour film, which she described as “an act of love.” She also thanked her fellow producers, with special attention going to Netflix, “our great champions at Netflix who let a black woman do her thing.” Netflix was a recurring theme among several acceptance speeches and has been throughout the 2020 awards season.
DuVernay’s speech was one of the more impassioned of the night, drawing attention to the lives of the film’s real subjects and calling the audience and viewers to act to address the discrimination they see around them.
“The series began with a tweet from Raymond Santana, and now he and Antron [McCray], Kevin [Richardson], Yusef [Salaam] and the mighty Korey Wise stand for something larger than they ever imagined,” DuVernay said. “They stand for justice. They shine bright like the gems that they always were, but that we never saw. If you watch their story and felt something in that moment, I invite you to consider doing something. There’s no right thing to do. Do what you feel, where you are, but don’t let your anger and sadness be all.”
DuVernay continued by acknowledging how the Central Park Five case was illustrative of much larger issues that are ongoing in the United States and around the world before quoting American writer and womanist Audre Lorde.
“Cases like this are happening all around the world, in this country, most specifically on our watch,” the When They See Us creator said. “People who are poor and innocent are behind bars while the rich and guilty walk free and gain power. The late poet Audre Lorde told us exactly what to do at times like this. She said when we speak, we are afraid our words will not be heard, or welcomed. But when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”
Before the Netflix series creator, co-writer and director took the stage, presenters Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara quipped about the creative company When They See Us was nominated alongside. Many of the shows up for best limited series were similarly centered around social issues, including inequity, disaster or discrimination.
“No,” O’Hara said at one point, refusing to read the next series description in light of the recurring serious and difficult topics explored by the previously announced nominees.
“It’s — you know it’s a comedy about a family from Manchester, so —” Levy responded, trying to prod O’Hara to read from the prompter.
“Have you ever been to Manchester?” O’Hara whined to laughs.
Other shows up for best limited series included Catch-22 (Hulu), Chernobyl (HBO), Fosse/Verdon (FX), The Loudest Voice (Showtime), Unbelievable (Netflix), When They See Us (Netflix) and Years and Years (HBO).
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