The actress, who received the award for her role in ‘Fences’, drew an emotional response from the audience and viewers at home as she spoke about the importance of telling the stories of African American people.
As well honouring ‘Fences’ writer August Wilson, Viola also paid tribute to her late father, claiming working on the film had helped her to gain perspective on his death.
“You know, my father groomed horses at the racetrack and he had a fifth grade education, and he was a janitor towards the end of his life, when he died of cancer at a McDonald’s,” she said.
“And the reason why I say that is when he took his last breath, one of the most devastating things that went through my mind is: ‘did his life matter?’
“August answers that question so brilliantly, because what he did is he said that our lives mattered as African Americans.
“The horse groomer, the sanitation worker, the people who grew up under the heavy boot of Jim Crow, the people who did not make it into history books, but they have a story; and those stories deserve to be told, because they lived.”
Watch her speech in full in the video below...
Speaking to reporters in a winner’s press conference following her triumph, Viola added: “I think that often with African Americans, if you didn’t make it into a history book, if you’re not a walking social statement, than the story is not worthy to be told.
“And there are times I want to tell people the fact that I am just a living, breathing person. I’m a woman. I’m sexual, I’m joyful, I’m funny, I’m tragic, I’m all of those things.
“And that in itself should be worthy.”
Viola beat Nicole Kidman, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris and Haley Squires to win the Best Supporting Actress gong.
‘La La Land’ was the biggest winner of the night with a number of gong, including Best Film.