Multi-hyphenate powerhouse Debbie Allen gave a powerful speech at the 2021 Emmy Awards, accepting her Governors Award with a rallying cry to women “across this country and across the world, from Texas to Afghanistan”: “Claim your power, claim your voice, sing your song, tell your stories. It will make us a better place.”
Before taking the stage, Jada Pinkett Smith, Ellen Pompeo, Ava DuVernay, and Michael Douglas paid tribute to Allen’s role as Lydia Grant in the musical series Fame, introducing the dancer, actress, producer, and director while holding canes in their hands.
In her speech, Allen acknowledged her 50-plus-year career in entertainment through tears (“It’s taken a lot of courage to be the only woman in the room most of the time”), shouted out collaborators including Steven Spielberg and Shonda Rhimes, and politely shut down the timer clocking her speech — “Honey, turn that clock off. I’m paying no attention to it” — to uproarious applause from the audience. (Take notes, Scott.)
According to the Emmys website, the Governors Award is presented to those with an “outstanding achievement in the arts and sciences or management of television which is either of a cumulative nature or so extraordinary and universal in nature as to go beyond the scope of the Emmy Awards presented in the categories and areas of the competition.” Tyler Perry and the Perry Foundation received the award in 2020.
In addition to her work in Hollywood, Allen is the founder of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, a nonprofit focused on teaching young people the art of dance. She has been nominated for 20 Emmys and won five times, including twice this year.