Oprah Winfrey is all over the news these days.
The television icon began the week receiving the 2010 Kennedy Center Honors for her contributions to the entertainment world. Then on Tuesday she headed off on a week-long trip to Australia with 300 members of her studio audience. And today she will appear in an interview with Barbara Walters, yet again defending herself against the ever-present rumor that she is involved in a lesbian relationship with her BFF Gayle King.
However, most people are interested in what Winfrey will do with her time when she ends her 25-year-old talk show next summer. Of course, Winfrey has primarily been working on marketing her “OWN” cable network, which premieres next month.
Nonetheless, it seems like Winfrey would also like to go back to her acting roots.
According to Deadline.com, Winfrey is in talks with HBO to star in a film adaptation of Lynn Nottage’s award-winning play, Ruined. She will also star in a new comedy written and directed by Michael Patrick King of Sex and the City fame and starring Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock.
As far as acting is concerned, Winfrey is best remembered for her role as the strong-willed Sofia in The Color Purple, which garnered her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. But I wonder if she can regain the same kind of acting acclaim today. Would moviegoers be willing to buy into Oprah playing anyone other than, well, Oprah? The Color Purple was made years before “Oprah” became an international, multi-billion dollar brand. She is so closely identified with her talk show that one would possibly find it difficult to take her seriously playing a different role.
Actress Julia Roberts said it best about Winfrey this week at the Kennedy Center Honors.
“It’s a universal conversation starter: Did you see what was on Oprah today?” Roberts said. “The first time I heard of a better fitting bra … or a fascinating politician named Barack Obama was on The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
The Australian government is reportedly spending a whooping $4 million alone just on her show’s trip, hoping that Winfrey’s presence will create a tourism boom for the country in the long term.
“Oprah is a household name, not just in the United States but in the 145 countries where the show is broadcast,” Federal Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson said in a statement. “That Oprah has chosen Australia as her Ultimate Adventure destination sends a powerful message to her millions of fans around the world.”
Furthermore, while she has had much success in helping books top bestseller lists and marketing products in her annual “favorite things” list, Winfrey’s command in Hollywood has been lukewarm at best. Previous film endeavors prove that just because Winfrey acted in or had some association with a film doesn’t necessarily mean the film will succeed at the box office, simply because of her name recognition.
Beloved, the last film she both acted in and produced, was on of the biggest disappointments at the box office in 1998. While her collaboration with Tyler Perry on the Oscar-winning film Precious was a success with both critics and audiences, The Great Debaters, the 2007 Denzel Washington-directed biopic about the Wiley College debate team, which Winfrey co-produced, flopped at the box office.
However, at the end of the day, if Winfrey wants to be an actress, then more power to her. I would also hope that she would want to use her power and influence to have a bigger role behind the camera and help nurture other actors, writers and directors of color produce more balanced images of themselves coming out of Hollywood.
While some will still criticize the negative imagery of black women in Precious, it cannot be denied that the film’s acting by Mo’Nique and Gabourey Sidibe under Lee Daniels’ direction was solid and the film probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day without Winfrey’s blessing.
Maybe if Winfrey could help develop a comprehensive strategy for creating a brand for black Hollywood like she has done for her media empire, she could really stir things up in the entertainment world.
Like I have said before, if Oprah doesn’t do it, who will?