I arrived in Hollywood at the age of 22 in a time different than today’s, a time in which the odds against my standing here tonight 53 years later would not have fallen in my favour. Back then, no route had been established for where I was hoping to go, no pathway left in evidence for me to trace, no custom for me to follow.
Yet, here I am this evening at the end of a journey that in 1949 would have been considered almost impossible and in fact might never have been set in motion were there not an untold number of courageous, unselfish choices made by a handful of visionary American film-makers, directors, writers and producers; each with a strong sense of citizenship responsibility to the times in which they lived; each unafraid to permit their art to reflect their views and values, ethical and moral, and moreover, acknowledge them as their own.
They knew the odds that stood against them and their efforts were overwhelming and likely could have proven too high to overcome. Still those film-makers persevered, speaking through their art to the best in all of us. And I’ve benefited from their effort. The industry benefited from their effort. America benefited from their effort. And in ways large and small the world has also benefited from their effort.
Therefore, with respect, I share this great honour with the late Joe Mankiewicz, the late Richard Brooks, the late Ralph Nelson, the late Darryl Zanuck, the late Stanley Kramer, the Mirisch brothers – especially Walter whose friendship lies at the very heart of this moment – Guy Green, Norman Jewison, and all others who have had a hand in altering the odds for me and for others.
Without them this most memorable moment would not have come to pass and the many excellent young actors who have followed in admirable fashion might not have come as they have to enrich the tradition of American film-making as they have. I accept this award in memory of all the African-American actors and actresses who went before me in the difficult years, on whose shoulders I was privileged to stand to see where I might go.
My love and my thanks to my wonderful, wonderful wife, my children, my grandchildren, my agent and friend Martin Baum. And finally, to those audience members around the world who have placed their trust in my judgment as an actor and film-maker, I thank each of you for your support through the years. Thank you.