The Root | Viola Davis Slays Her 2018 Women’s March Speech: ‘Nothing and No One Can Be Great Without a Cost’

She came. She roared. She conquered.

Actress Viola Davis, who has been thrilling audiences with her passionate, deeply felt words since at least 2017 (or that year she made us all cry at the Oscars), gave no less at the Women’s March 2018 in Los Angeles this past Saturday.

Decked out in a leather jacket; big, beautiful hair; and the fierceness of a lifelived (and don’t @ me for talking about how she looked—at 52, she looks too damn good!), Davis gave thousands of pink-pussy-hat wearers something to talk—and think—about.

Davis opened by saying, “In the words of my fellow American Malcolm X, I’m gonna make it plain.”

OK, Viola. We are listening. Because opening with Malcolm means it’s about to go down.

She followed up by calling the United States the greatest nation on earth, but reminding us: “In 1877, America put laws in place called the Jim Crow laws,” and those laws “restricted the rights of quadroons, octoroons, blacks, Hispanics, Malays … they restricted medical, relationships, education, in all, “they restricted life.”

Davis also quoted Martin Luther King Jr., and then she got animated, telling the crowd that the price of freedom is certainly not free.

“We only move forward when it doesn’t cost us anything,” she said. “But I’m here today saying that no one and nothing can be great unless it costs you something.”

She noted that women of color, if they are raped or sexually assaulted before the age of 18, are 66 percent more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted again.

“Seventy percent of girls who are sexually trafficked are girls of color,” Davis added. “They are coming out of the foster care system, they are coming out of poverty. It is a billion-dollar business.” 

She, like Oprah, called the names of activist and organizer Fannie Lou Hamer; of Recy Taylor, who was gang-raped by six white men; of Rosa Parks; of activist Tarana Burke—saying their work, their sacrifice, cost them something.

“Nothing and no one can be great without a cost,” she said.

Davis closed by getting personal and saying that her testimony was that of one of those young girls of color who grew up in poverty and who was sexually violated:

I am always introduced as an award-winning actor. But my testimony is one of poverty. My testimony is one of being sexually assaulted and very much seeing a childhood that was robbed from me. And I know that every single day, when I think of that, I know that the trauma of those events are still with me today. And that’s what drives me to the voting booth. That’s what allows me to listen to the women who are still in silence. That’s what allows me to even be a citizen on this planet.

And then, hammering the point home, she said ain’t nobody free till we all free.

“As we live on earth, we’ve got to bring everyone with us,” said Davis.

Brava, Ms. Davis. Brava.