A lot has changed in Hollywood since then: The category announcement that night had begun with a lewd joke from Seth Rogen. And the person Williams thanked after her daughter was producer Harvey Weinstein, whose highly anticipated sexual assault trial began Monday morning. Williams has changed, too.
That became clear Sunday at the 2020 Golden Globes ceremony, where the actress — a mainstay at major awards shows since her Oscar-nominated turn in Ang Lee’s 2005 drama “Brokeback Mountain” — advocated for abortion rights while accepting a best actress award for her portrayal of dancer-actress Gwen Verdon in the FX series “Fosse/Verdon.” Her Globes speech, along with her powerful plea for equal pay at last year’s Emmys ceremony, have put Williams in company with the likes of Patricia Arquette, Viola Davis, Meryl Streep and other actresses who use their time on gilded award show stages to bring attention to political and industry issues.
“I’ve tried my very best to live a life of my own making and not just a series of events that happened to me. But one that I could stand back and look at and recognize my handwriting all over,” Williams said Sunday. “Sometimes messy and scrawling, sometimes careful and precise. But one that I had carved with my own hand. And I wouldn’t have been able to do this without employing a woman’s right to choose.”
“To choose when to have my children and with whom, when I felt supported and able to balance our lives, knowing as all mothers know that the scales must and will tip towards our children,” added Williams, who is newly engaged to her “Fosse/Verdon” director, Thomas Kail, and pregnant with their child. “I know my choices might look different than yours, but thank God or whomever you pray to that we live in a country founded on the principle that I am free to live by my faith and you are free to live by yours.”
She concluded with a call for political action: “So, women 18 to 118, when it is time to vote, please do so in your self-interest,” she said. “It’s what men have been doing for years, which is why the world looks so much like them, but don’t forget we are the largest voting body in this country. Let’s make it look more like us.”
Her speech, which received widespread applause from her colleagues, evoked the rousing words that earned her a standing ovation in September as she accepted an Emmy award for the same role. The actress had previously spoken out about pay parity, even appealing to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, after learning she had been paid a fraction of what her “All the Money in the World” co-star Mark Wahlberg received for reshoots on the Ridley Scott drama.
“The next time a woman — and especially a woman of color, because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white male counterparts — tells you what she needs in order to do her job, listen to her, believe her,” Williams said at the Emmys. “Because one day, she might stand in front of you and say thank you for allowing her to succeed because of her workplace environment and not in spite of it.”
Backstage at Sunday’s ceremony, reporters asked the actress — whose activism has also included work with the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements — what had inspired her increasingly personal, and political, rhetoric.
“I have been, by nature, a shy person, but I’m about to turn 40, and I realized that over a great span of time I’ve become stronger and I’ve become more able and I’ve found my voice,” the actress explained. “I want to be able to use it because … when other people have used their voice, I know what a difference it’s made in my life.”
“I also feel like at this age and where I am in my life, I have so much to give, and it would be negligent of me to not try, from this position, to hand back everything that was handed over to me,” she added.
Williams told reporters that in the months since her Emmys speech, she’s had women approach her to recall “how it affected or helped them or how it changed what they asked for from their bosses.” She said she has also heard from bosses who were inspired to more thoughtfully consider what they pay their female employees.
“It is the greatest professional thing that has ever happened to me,” she said of the response. “I felt like tonight if I was lucky enough to win, I couldn’t not say something else on my mind in the hopes that somebody would hear it.”
There is one thing that hasn’t changed about Williams’s speeches, though. On Sunday, she ended her Golden Globes speech with a nod to her fiance, and her now 14-year-old daughter. “Tommy and Matilda,” she said, smiling. “I can’t wait to come home to you.”