Megan Ellison on ‘The Gift of the Artist’
“When I lose my faith I look to the artist to restore it.”
A transcript of Megan Ellison’s acceptance speech from the SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s inaugural Patron of the Artists Award:
Thank you David. There’s no one quite like David O. Russell. And I have to say, I grew up watching his films and it’s a shock that he’s here introducing me tonight with such love. When I think of David, I think of how beautiful of a human being he is and how huge of a heart he has, and the magic that he’s able to create. I’ve never seen a magician like David O. Russell. Watching him work is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given. So, thank you. I have so much love for you and always will.
Good evening everyone, I’m a little nervous. Of course I want to start by saying thank you to the Screen Actors Guild Foundation for honoring me with this beautiful award. I accept it on behalf of my amazing team at Annapurna. Thank you for continuing to support me, even through my darkest of times, perhaps times when I didn’t even deserve your aid. And of course on behalf of all the incredible artists that I’ve had the opportunity to work with. Thank you for taking a chance on a 24-year-old trust fund kid with no resume. But to be honest, I have mixed feelings about awards, because in the words of Groucho Marx, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member”.
The reason I wanted to be here tonight was to take this opportunity to say why I do what I do, why I believe it to be important, and right now I feel I need to remind myself of this more than ever. The Hollywood machine at times has worked hard to make me despise what I love, and I don’t think this is a truth I share alone in this room. As a kid, stories are what saved me. It was the work that I experienced and fell in love with, but what I didn’t realize at the time was that it was the artists who I was connecting to. They were the ones who were saving me. For me, art is an intense form of humanity and empathy, and often the only cure or escape from the immense pain and tragedy of our world.
I started my journey only understanding film from the sole perspective of the piece of art — the VHS tape in my hand or from my seat at the local cinema — not yet knowing the filmmakers as individuals. And there are moments that I wish it had stayed that way, for my love of art has been injured at times by their human flaws. I’m sure I’ve done the same to them. But more so, my wounds are from an industry that can lack empathy, compassion, accountability, and authenticity.
But, we are all imperfect creatures and when I lose my faith I look to the artist to restore it. Voltaire said, “we are all full of weakness and errors; let us mutually pardon each other our follies — for it is the first law of nature”. I know I wake up every day trying to do the best I can and I know I so often come up short. I’m not always as kind as I would like to be, and definitely not as calm. There are days I question whether or not I’m a good person at all. But I realized my greatest strengths of passion, and depth of feeling are often also my greatest sources of destructive behavior. So in the words of another great artist, Kanye West, “Everything I am is because of everything I’m not”.
And this is why I fight the endless war to protect who and what I can, with what I have. I believe an artist’s work is their highest form. They struggle like every other human. Imperfect and broken like the rest of us but they give and continue to give the greatest of all gifts to me, and to the world, that I personally have ever received. I am eternally grateful and indebted to them. I need them. And I believe the world needs them too.
I know I’m being a bit long winded, they told me 2 minutes, but I didn’t come here to pick up a statue, as beautiful and kind as it is. I had something I wanted to say. And I’m almost done. So I’ll leave you with the words of John F Kennedy.
He said “If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth… The highest duty of the writer, the composer, the actor or the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may.”
So thank you for honoring me with the Patron of the Artists award tonight. Thank you.