A champion of Time's Up, the new celebrity-backed initiative meant to give support to women in all industries, Winfrey spoke passionately about the importance of speaking out.
"What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have," she said. "And I'm especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories."
After stepping off the stage, Winfrey, 63, came backstage and spoke to reporters about lessons she's learned throughout her decades-long career. Those nuggets can be found below.
ON HER GREATEST LIFE LESSON: "The greatest lesson I've learned throughout my career came from Maya Angelou, actually. When I was first meeting her and after I'd known her for a while, she said, 'Baby, you need to know that when people show you who they are, you believe them the first time... and your problem is it takes you 29 times.' ... I think that has been one of my greatest wisdom teachings -- is to assess from people's behavior, their actions, not just towards me but towards other people, who they are and how they behave. Because if people talk about other people, they'll talk about you. So I think in business and in personal relationships, that's also been my greatest lesson. Also staying grounded has been really great for me."
ON WHAT HUMBLES HER: "This humbles me! When they first called me and said they wanted me to accept this, I said, 'I shouldn't be the person to get the Cecil B. DeMille Award.' You know why? I was working with Reese Witherspoon this past spring and winter and I happened to just say in the makeup room one morning, I said, 'So how many movies have you done?' and she said, 'Oh honey child, I don't know, it's been so many!' I then thought, 'I hope she doesn't ask me because I think it's been five!' and so I didn't understand it, and then they explained that it's about overall entertainment. Now, what I was able to do with 'The Oprah [Winfrey] Show' and the cultural statement we were able to make throughout the world, I feel very, very, very proud of that, but I think that when it comes to films, that I am really the new kid on the block. And I always feel like when I'm acting, that I am out of my box and it's the most intimidated I ever feel."
ON ADVICE TO ASPIRING FILMMAKERS: "Do stuff that you love. For 25 years I worked on 'The Oprah [Winfrey] Show,' Stedman [Graham] will tell you there were nights when I came home and it was hard to take off my clothes because I knew I was going to be getting up four hours later, but I never really felt exhausted. I felt exhausted, but I never felt depleted. So do the work that comes straight from the soul of you, from your background, from stories that you've grown up with, from stories that bring you passion, from stories that you not just yearn to tell but if you don't tell, that they won't get told. And when you are operating from -- the single greatest wisdom I think I've ever received other than when people show you who they really are, is that the key to fulfillment, success, happiness, contentment in life is when you align your personality with what your soul actually came to do. I believe everybody has a soul and has their own personal spiritual energy so when you can use your personality to serve whatever that thing is, you can't help but be successful...All of the great wonderful experiences in my life that brought me to this moment have come from working from the interior of my soul. That's why it feels so authentic -- because it actually is! So when you do that, you'll win."
ON WHAT SHE'D TELL HER SEVEN-YEAR-OLD SELF: "I was so sad and at seven, all of my real love came from my teachers. I would say this to anybody in this room: You have no idea of the power of noticing another human being and what it feels like when somebody knows that they have been seen, truly seen, by you. It is the greatest offering you can give. And all those years on 'The Oprah [Winfrey] Show,' the greatest lesson I learned was that after every show, someone would say, invariably, in one way or another, 'How was that?' I'd finish an interview with a father who killed his twin girls. I'd finish an interview with politicians, Barack Obama or Joe Biden, George Bush. Beyoncé! They all said the same thing: 'How was that?' And so I started to see that there's this common thread in our humanity where everyone wants to know, 'How was that? Did I do okay? Did you hear me and did what I say mean something to you?' So I would have to say that recognizing that in other people has helped me to become a person of compassion...I know that at the core of you is the same as the core of me. You just want to be heard."
ON THE STATE OF THE WORLD: "I always think and know, having watched it over the years, through thousands and thousands of interviews and watching people and their dysfunction that when something really negative is brewing, that there is the direct opposite reaction that is also possible because for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So when something as big as what started to happen in October with [the] Harvey Weinstein [allegations]... and with every day's revelations, I thought, 'Here is an opportunity for something powerfully, a powerful growth, and how do we use this moment to elevate what is happening instead of continually victimizing ourselves?' And so I think that wearing black in solidarity is one step. I think that what Time's Up is doing with the legal defense fund is a major step. It was very important to all of us involved in Time's Up that it not just be about the women of Hollywood because we're already a privileged group, but to extend to the women of the world, because as I said tonight, there isn't a culture, a race, a religion, a politic, a workplace that hasn't been affected by it. And one of the reasons why I wanted to tell Recy Taylor's story is so that people know it's been happening for a very long time -- when people didn't feel that they could speak up and so there are so many women who endured so much and remain silent, and it kept going because there was no other recourse and now that we've all joined as one voice, I think that it feels like empowerment to those women who have never had it."