Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Oprah Winfrey and Black Literature

[By Kenton Rambsy]

Oprah Winfrey has been a major leader in promoting African American literature through various dramatic mediums. Oprah Winfrey’s mark on black literature has been significant in terms of dramatizing the works of Richard Wright, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Zora Neale Hurston.

Oprah’s contributions to black writing spans more than twenty years from her portraying Bigger Thomas’s mother in the 1986 remake of Native Son to financing the 2007 made-for-television film adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Oprah’s portrayals of Sophia in the 1985 film The Color Purple and as Sethe in the 1998 film of Beloved have had significant consequences on how moviegoers connect to the film versions of those movies. The now famous line, “Miss Celie, you told Harpo to beat me” resonates in popular culture as both a connection to Alice Walker’s novel, Spielberg’s film, and Oprah Winfrey’s character, but also, the line serves as a tragic-comedic representation of domestic abuse.

Even outside of acting, Winfrey has played a behind the scenes role in giving black novels second and even third lives. For instance, she served as one of the key producers for the 2005 Broadway Musical of The Color Purple, which earned eleven Tony Awards nominations in its three year stint on Broadway and giving rise to new character representations for wide ranging audiences to consider. Also, she employed the talents of African American playwrights uzan-Lori Parks for writing the screenplay for the television film of Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God in 2005.  

The multiple reincarnations of African American literature through film, and even plays, have direct connections to the efforts of Winfrey. Serving as an advocate, actress, or financer, she has played a pivotal role in the production and promotion of African American literary art. 

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