Jessica Chastain arrives for the 20th annual Critics Choice Awards, Jan. 15, 2015, at the Palladium in Hollywood, Calif.
FREDERIC J. BROWN

On Martin Luther King Jr.’s 86th birthday, actress Jessica Chastain was the recipient of the Most Valuable Player honor at the 2015 Critics Choice Awards. During her speech, Chastain recognized King’s birthday, as well as the need for a more diverse Hollywood.

“Today is Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, so it got me thinking about our need to build the strength of diversity in our industry, and to stand together against homophobic, sexist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic and racist agendas,” she said. “I’m an optimist and I can’t help but feel hopeful about the future of film, especially looking at all of the beautiful people in this room. 

“Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,’” she continued before concluding, “And I would like to encourage everyone in this room to please speak up. Thank you.”

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Although her remarks received rounds of applause, the actress told CBS News that shortly after the remarks went public, she started receiving racist attacks. The Zero Dark Thirty actress said she found it strange to receive the racist comments.

“I’ve had really terrible people who are racists comment on the speech and say really terrible things. I’m understanding that some people in this world, how much hate they can have,” she said. “Some people had taken my speech and then made it about awards—like SAG Awards or Oscars. That’s not what my speech was about.

“To me, awards are just a reflection,” she continued. “It’s just a symptom of the disease, and the disease is in the industry. If we had more diversity in our films, it would be reflected in diversity in the nominees.”

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Chastain’s speech definitely struck a chord with attendees of the award show. Oprah Winfrey was caught on camera saying, “Wow.”

If more people stood up for the cause of diversity, maybe Hollywood would finally listen, but unfortunately it probably fell on the deaf ears of the powers that be.