Victory has never tasted sweeter and it was ours to savor at this year’s 74th annual Academy Awards when Halle Berry and Denzel Washington nabbed Oscar gold. Their unprecedented wins were not only long overdue for Black actors and actresses but symbolic. Halle, the first Black woman to win for Best Actress in Academy Award history, was honored for her role in Monster’s Ball as a woman who tragically loses her husband and son. Denzel Washington becomes a second-time Oscar winner (he won Best Supporting Actor in 1990 for Glory) for his turn as a rogue cop in Training Day, ending the 40-year drought for Black men in the Best Actor’s category. He follows Sidney Poitier, who was honored with the Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and was the first brother to receive the Best Actor honor for his role in Lilies of the Field in 1963.

African-Americans have always made significant contributions to the entertainment world and it’s wonderful to see these barriers have been broken. It opens the door for more talented brothers and sisters to get their props in Hollywood. It’s time to see even more of us in front of the camera, behind the scenes — and in positions of power. The ESSENCE family congratulates our Academy Award winners and shares some heartfelt thoughts from them on their big night. Congrats Halle, Denzel and Sidney!

Halle Berry

“I hope this means that they won’t see our color and maybe now we will start to be judged on the merit of our work and not our skin. It’s not about me as much as it is about other women of color who have tried to permeate this system for so many years. Will tonight change the industry? I don’t know, but if it changes the minds of those people who felt defeated [by making them] feel hopeful, then eventually those inspired hearts will make a change. I believe that.”

Denzel Washington

“I think it’s more exciting or surreal the first time [you win]. I don’t know if that has sunk in. I represent a craft and I’m just trying to do my best work. I have an obligation to the public because they’re paying their hard-earned money to be entertained. I’m paid a lot of money to entertain so I work really hard. I’m really pleased that the Academy is recognizing people for their work and not just the amount of money that’s spent on a film. As actors [we] always have the ultimate power — the power to say no. I think one of the reasons I’m standing here today is because of the roles that I didn’t do, not for the roles I have done.”

Denzel on Sidney…

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“First of all, what an honor it is to be on stage with that class of an individual. Sidney Poitier has been a friend of mine for a long time and has given me very good advice about my career. In fact, he was helpful in my doing the film Cry Freedom because I was offered another film for a lot of money when, he suggested I turn it down. I got film Cry Freedom , which was the first time I was nominated [for an Oscar]. I’m indebted to Sidney. In a lot of ways I’m already a part of history, but it’s more personal for me because my feelings for [Sidney] I’ve had long before this became news, and I feel closer to him now.”

Sidney Poitier

“If I’m worthy of it, then it was wonderful. But you know, I’ve been a part of this community for 50-odd years, and I’ve done 53 motion pictures, most of which were made in this town. I know the town and can give you point-by-point how much the town has changed and has not changed.”

Sidney on Denzel…

“Denzel Washington stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best actors that ever lived. [Today], we have a lot of African American actors, but when we didn’t have any, I appeared. Not because I brought so much, but the time was right.”