Oprah Winfrey Celebrates "Voices of an Extraordinary New Age" as She Accepts Inaugural Empowerment Award at Hollywood Reporter Event

Winfrey took time to celebrate "recent innovations, improvements and badass thinking" during her speech at the Empowerment in Entertainment gala, which also featured Alicia Keys, Selena Gomez, Kumail Nanjiani, Ciara and Don Lemon.

"You know, it takes a while to develop a voice, but once you have it, you damn sure better use it on the stuff that matters," Oprah Winfrey declared Tuesday at The Hollywood Reporter's inaugural Empowerment in Entertainment gala. 

Winfrey was awarded the first-ever Empowerment in Entertainment award at the Los Angeles event, which honors those who have created opportunities for people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community and other emerging voices in the industry. The annual award will bear Winfrey's name going forward and will be called the Oprah Winfrey Empowerment in Entertainment Award. The gala also kicked off the Young Executives Fellowship, which provides 20 hand-picked L.A. high school students with industry mentors, internships and, for some, college scholarships. 

Winfrey took time to celebrate her friend Ava DuVernay, who directed her in A Wrinkle in Time, for "leading the charge in employing female directors for our beautiful scripted series, Queen Sugar. I’m delighted to announce that we have hired 28 first-time female TV directors during our four seasons of production. These filmmakers were not able to get a job in television because no one was willing to take a chance on them. But Ava was not only willing to, she was wanting to. And now, as much as we’d love to hire them back, they’re all too busy working on other projects. That is incredible." 

Winfrey, who is featured on the cover of THR's Empowerment issue, said she was inspired to join the initiative because "I think a whole lot of us in this country have been feeling a kind of impotent rage, as a result of the micro-inequalities and the macro unfairness we see every single day. Well, I’m here to tell you, that there is a time to let things happen, and there is a time to make things happen," she said. "This new program and this extraordinary award is a declaration that now is the time to actually make some things happen."

Added Winfrey, "Empowerment is authority. It’s a signed permission slip to seize the day. It’s the process of getting stronger and more confident and more engaged. To be empowered is to move through the world without fear or apology, and with these gifts, come an even deeper privilege — the ability to take charge of your own life and claim your rights." 

Winfrey also spoke about the times throughout her career when she has been treated as "less than" because of her gender, remembering how she was paid less than her male co-workers as a reporter in Baltimore and how she fought at The Oprah Winfrey Show so that her female producers would get a fair raise. Times have changed since her mother's generation, she said, when women were "forced to grit their teeth and take it, because standing up for themselves just wasn’t even an option, the risk was too great and they knew it."

"I stand here today, feeling more empowered than ever before. I come as one and I stand as 10,000, grateful beyond words to look around this room and know that we are all here to fulfill the dreams of those who came before us," Winfrey said. "We are here not merely to bear witness, but to be the new voices of an extraordinary new age."

At the end of her speech, Winfrey turned her attention to the young people in the room, telling them that "when I look at you, Young Executives, I see the hope in your eyes, and it reminds me of the way my daughter-girls from my Academy in South Africa look on graduation day as they cross the stage to accept their diplomas. I see the sacrifice and work that it took to get you there. But more than that, I see the ways in which your lives are forever changed because of the opportunity you were given and the choices you made to step up into leadership roles and end the cycles of abuse and poverty that your mothers and grandmothers and fathers have endured."

"I am proud that we are all stepping into our power to make a lasting impact on the next generations. Our power to say no to assholes," added Winfrey, thanking Shonda Rhimes for coining the line. "Our power to say that the way things were done yesterday does not define how we will still do them tomorrow."

She concluded, in her signature inspirational fashion, "A new day is no longer on the horizon. The new day is now!"

Alicia Keys presented Winfrey with her award at the event, admitting that she "always wanted to walk like Oprah. I know I'm not the only one!" 

"As a woman, especially a woman of color, I rarely saw a role model like her," the singer-songwriter said. "We were shown that the only way to be successful was to be domineering, demanding, harsh, an old white guy in a three-piece suit, banging on a conference table. But Oprah shows us that you can have tenderness and sensitivity; you can care about the world and the people in it; you can have a heart and still be a badass."

Added Keys, "Ms. O proves that you can be a super successful billionaire and shine light at the same time. She shows me that there’s no such thing as the only way to get to greatness, instead everyone can carve their own path! We are grateful for you and blessed to stand in your light," said the singer-songwriter before embracing Winfrey onstage. 

Also in attendance were Amazon's Jennifer Salke, Ali Wong, Eva Longoria, Lil Rel Howery, Marsai Martin, Elaine Welteroth, Sherry Lansing, Anthony Anderson, Netflix's Cindy Holland, Jill Soloway and Franklin Leonard. Longoria, Soloway and Leonard were among 50 Hollywood "Agents of Change" also celebrated at the event and in THR's Empowerment issue.

Empowerment in Entertainment, held at Milk Studios, also included presenters Selena Gomez, Kumail Nanjiani, Ciara and Don Lemon. The event was presented by WME with platinum sponsor Amazon Prime Video and sponsored by Entertainment One, Imax, OWN, Starz and Casamigos.