As you can tell by the title of this post, my eminent person this year is the great lady herself, Oprah Winfrey.
Born January 29th, 1954 in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to a unmarried teenage mother, Oprah had a difficult upbringing and childhood. Living with her mother and maternal grandmother (both housemaids) in rural poverty until age six, Winfrey and her mother eventually moved to an inner-city neighbourhood in Milwaukee, before Winfrey was once again relocated to Nashville, Tennessee to live with her father, Vernon Winfrey. This is where years of sexual abuse by her cousin, uncle, and a family friend started. At the age of 13, she ran away after years of abuse and then became pregnant at 14, however her son was born prematurely and he died shortly after birth. When Winfrey discussed the alleged abuse with family members at age 24, they refused to accept what she said. Upon returning home to her mother, Oprah was sent back to Nashville to live with her father once again whom was a strict man, but encouraging and made her education a priority. Winfrey soon became an honors student, was voted Most Popular Girl, and joined her high school speech team at East Nashville High School, placing second in the nation in dramatic interpretation. She was given a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, and at 17 won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant, which attracted the attention of a local news station, who hired her to do the news part-time during her senior year of high school, and again in her first two years of high school.
Working in local media, she was both the youngest news anchor, and the first black female news anchor at Nashville’s WLAC-TV. She moved to Baltimore’s WJZ-TV in 1976 to co-anchor the six o’clock news, and here is where she meets her best friend, Gayle King.
She then moved to Chicago in 1983 to host WLS-TV’s low-rated half-hour morning talk show, AM Chicago. Within months of her taking over, the show soon went from the lowest in ratings to surpassing Donahue, and taking the number one spot as the highest rated talk show in Chicago. The first episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show aired on September 8th, 1986. Winfrey’s show brought in double Donahue’s national audience, displacing Donahue as the number-one daytime talk show in America.
From there started a new era in daytime television. Oprah went on to bring anyone and everyone on to the show, listening and interviewing each person to the full extent. Some argue that she lacks journalistic skills, however she makes up for that in empathy, humour, and character. She has interviewed celebrities, politicians, scientists, and people with everyday lives hoping to change the world. Winfrey was one of the only people to ever interview Michael Jackson (the fourth most-watched television event in history), talked to Lance Armstrong after him being stripped of his Tour de France wins, Whitney Houston, where she openly admitted to drug use, Tom Cruise manically expressing his love for Katie Holmes, and of course, the famous episode of “You get a car! and you get a car!” Where Winfrey gave every member of her 300-seat audience a new Pontiac G6.
However, she didn’t just stop there. She starred in The Colour Purple, and was nominated for an Academy award. She also helped produce and star in the critically acclaimed film Selma. Winfrey has co-authored five books, and published O, The Oprah Magazine; from 2004 to 2008. Winfrey was called “arguably the world’s most powerful woman” by CNN and Time.com, “arguably the most influential woman in the world” by The American Spectator “one of the 100 people who most influenced the 20th Century” and “one of the most influential people” from 2004 to 2011 by TIME. Winfrey is the only person in the world to have appeared in the latter list on ten occasions.
If I were to go more deeply into her ongoing legacy and philanthropy, we would be here a while, and boasting about your eminent person isn’t what this intro post is supposed to be about (or well, most of it) I’m supposed to explain why I choose Oprah as my eminent person.
My mom was a avant watcher of The Oprah Winfrey Show, so growing up she was a household name (as she is in many households) to me. Last eminent I was focusing on feminism and the misogyny in our culture/society. This year, I wanted to focus on someone who brings to light topics that are controversial, someone who shines lights on stories that are often unheard of, or are being given a misconception. As well, Oprah was breaking ground since the start of her career. At the time, journalism was a field dominated by white men. Oprah, who is not only a woman, but a person of colour, steps in and hosts the number one talk show in America.
I think becoming Oprah on Night of the Notables will be a challenge I am excited to overcome. Obviously, black-facing is out the question, and Oprah doesn’t have a trademark look; her style, all the way down to her hair and shoes has changed over the 25 years of her show, and the 30+ years of her career. I need to watch the way she speaks to interviewees, copy her mannerisms, common phrases, and facial expressions. What I’m embellishing here is that my PVR is set to record reruns of her show, Oprah’s Next Chapter, and Oprah’s Masterclass. The OWN Network loves me.
I admire the drive and passion she has for what she does. She has never been afraid to ask questions, to be honest, or to bring up controversy. Oprah has been able to touch thousands of lives, and continues to each day. She is brave, and charismatic; two qualities I hope to capture one day (although my mother argues that I already have both). I am excited to study even more of how she has become the woman she is, and hopefully see a little bit of me in her.
*this was written much earlier than the post date but there were a lot more “you get a car” gifs and pictures that sadly had to be edited out.*