Ava DuVernay’s message was heard loud and clear at New York City’s 29th annual GLAAD Media Awards on Saturday night. The filmmaker (Selma, A Wrinkle in Time) was the recipient of the Excellence in Media Award for her fair, accurate and inclusive representation of the LGBTQ community throughout her extensive career in Hollywood.
Introduced by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, DuVernay — whose acclaimed OWN TV series Queen Sugar features a black transgender actor, Brian Michael Smith, playing the black transgender character of Toine Wilkins — took the stage in front of the crowd at Manhattan’s Hilton Midtown to speak about the importance of inclusivity amid 2018’s political climate.
The Academy Award-nominated director began her acceptance speech by pointing out that GLAAD was founded in 1985 as an active protest to the defamatory coverage of the HIV/AIDS crisis that plagued the LGBTQ community. According to DuVernay, activism and art are “one and the same.”
“People ask me a lot about being an activist and an artist. And to me, they’re one and the same. To be an activist, one must be highly creative,” she said, as seen in a video clip, exclusively revealed on The Hollywood Reporter (watch in the video player above). “It takes great imagination to envision a world and a way of being that is not there. That’s the definition of art to me.”
DuVernay continued: “So when I look at the many warriors who have had to apply this art, this imagination to their very lives as LGBTQ people to survive in this country, I stand and salute. And I feel honored to be able to share some of those stories in the film and TV that I make and in the films that I distribute.”
She went on to call this year’s GLAAD Media Awards “a triumph” for the LGBTQ community.
“We were never meant to survive. I thank my LGBTQ comrades for your fight, for your resilience, for your defiance, for your daring, for your dignity, for your declaration of self,” DuVernay said. “I dedicate this award tonight to those of every pronoun, who would never get to a room like this, who would never even imagine a room like this, who’ve lived their lives with question marks and no easy answers.”
The producer and screenwriter also used her powerful oration as an opportunity to make a statement about President Donald Trump and his administration’s lack of support for LGBTQ individuals.
“May our kindred of all kinds and colors defy what this leaderless country tells them they are,” she said. “May our kindred feel our love here tonight, our striving for them here tonight. May the light in this room somehow reach them in this moment.”
DuVernay concluded with a poignant quote from the late feminist writer and civil rights activist Audre Lorde: “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.”
In addition to DuVernay, actress Samira Wiley and Jay-Z’s mother, Gloria Carter, were honored at the awards show. Wiley received the prestigious Vito Russo Award for bringing awareness to the LGBTQ community through her portrayal of diverse, lesbian characters on Orange Is the New Black and The Handmaid’s Tale, while Carter was given the Special Recognition Award for her participation on Jay-Z’s 4:44 track “Smile,” an ode to her coming-out story.