At the fifth annual VH1 Trailblazer Honors, Ryan Murphy was celebrated for his groundbreaking achievements as an out producer, director and screenwriter for his uber-successful TV shows and movies including GLEE, American Crime Story, American Horror Story and Pose.
This year’s ceremony included trailblazers of diversity within the LGBTQ community and beyond highlighting the efforts of inspiring people and social movement that continue to change our world.
Murphy’s acceptance speech was artful, articulate and deeply personal.
He began by describing his early days in television in the late 1990s:
“When I was first starting out in this business in the late 1990s, it was not easy for me. I was told not to follow my instinct, to be someone else. I was told I was too weird, I was too faggy, I was too unusual. My mannerisms and my voice were mocked by executives in note meetings which I always thought was very weird because in meetings I am capable of speaking in a very low voice. But honestly, it was very painful to be discriminated against because what I wanted to do with my life, with my career, was very simple. And that was to see myself and my experiences on television.”
Murphy then explained the importance of seeing ourselves in movies and TV:
“Oprah Winfrey speaks very movingly about watching the Academy Awards and seeing herself and what she could possibly be when Sydney Poitier won an Oscar in 1964. As a gay man I never had that experience. I never saw triumphant, or at the very least, complicated gay people or gay characters on television. Where in the movies as a child or as a teenager, they were always marginalized punchlines at best, beaten for who they were most of the time, killed for who they were.
"I believe strongly in the power of television because I believe in the following: if you see yourself and some part of your human experiences reflected back at yourself, you will not feel alone. And people with hatred and bias in their hearts can often be converted if a character or situation they’re invested in feels like a friend.”
Murphy also shared that early in his career he knew that part of his personal mission would be to showcase LGBTs, minorities and underdogs of all kinds in his work in spite of the fact that he was told ‘no’ over and over again.
The 52-year-old worried that he would be ‘doomed’ to be a ‘supporting character’ for the rest of his career in show business until he got a call from a personal hero, legendary TV producer Norman Lear.
Lear had a simple message for Murphy: “Keep doing what you are doing. I see you. Don’t give up.”
And so, he didn’t.
“Take a weird confluence of things that I am personally interested in which are, in no particular order, musicals, horror character pieces, glamour, transformation, optimism, employment opportunities for actresses over 40 (huge applause) and turn them into a brand that employs close to 20,000 people in any given year. And has leapt from being something that is considered niche into something that is being embraced as mainstream by our business.”
Murphy noted that his current series, Pose, has the largest openly LGBTQ cast of any TV series in history including the most transgender actors and writers.
He also called out Tony Award winner Billy Porter, currently in Pose, as someone who was told his whole life to "be less, be less, be less."
But not by Murphy. "With Pose, I told Billy 'No, no, no – be bigger. Be all that you can be.'"
Truly one of the most inspiring acceptance speeches this writer has seen. Definitely worth the watching.