The presentation was made by her Fences co-star, Denzel Washington, who, nine years ago when he was making his film-directing debut with "Antwone Fisher," hired for a near-mute role that took two days to shoot. "The level of concentration that Viola displayed reminded me at that time — and it does now — of why I became an actor," he said. "She's a brilliant actress and a warm, wonderful human being."
Davis, accepting the award, movingly remembered when she decided to be an actress. "I grew up in Central Falls, RI, in such dire poverty, in an apartment — 128 Washington Street. It was a condemned building, no plumbing, no phones, infested with rats. It was poverty, the definitive idea of poverty, but it was in that apartment that my dream was born because it was in that apartment that I saw Cicely Tyson in 'The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.' I remember watching it, sitting down on the floor in that apartment, and I thought to myself, 'That's what I want to do' because what I saw was excellent, what I saw was craft. It went far beyond entertainment, and she looked like me. And I thought that if I could do that — if I could make a life and a career of doing that — it would be a good life.
"Now, here I am, at the age of 44, being honored for doing that."
— Harry Haun