Oprah Uncut: Media Mogul On The Butler

Oprah Winfrey’s back on the big screen. After the lackluster response to her last film, 1998’s Beloved, the savvy businesswoman makes her triumphant return to the box office this weekend (Aug. 16) in Lee Daniels’ The Butler.

Co-starring alongside Hollywood heavyweights Forest Whitaker, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robin Williams, among others, Winfrey plays wife to Cecil Gaines (Whitaker), a White House butler who served under various presidents during the span of 30-plus years.

Based on a true story, the gripping film finds Winfrey on the verge of reclaiming her box office mojo. Featured on the cover of the current issue of JET, the media mogul shares a few excerpts on her experience working on the film and the mixed reaction to Beloved.

What did you think the first time you saw the final cut of Lee Daniels’ The Butler?

The first time I couldn’t even wrap my head around it. I saw it again with the cast and it is remarkable. It is profound, it is thoughtful, and it is layered. I just wish every African-American could see this film. Because the thing that makes me weak inside my soul and that causes me great grief is that we as a people did not pass on the history to our children. That’s why our children run rampant in the streets, ’cause they don’t know who they are.

What do you think about the criticism that The Help received?

I have to say, I am disappointed that people would criticize The Help. I was born of a maid, who was born of a maid, who was born of a maid. I come from three generations of maids. And what people don’t understand— ’cause you don’t know who you are, you haven’t read your history— is that the maids, the butlers, the porters and all of the domestic workers who took jobs that nobody else would, really were the foundation for building this country and building our lives as we know them today. Their showing up for work every day is what established a different view of the American negro. Otherwise, the only impression that White people would have had was you know what they heard or when there was a riot. To not to accept that and honor that as part of our history is just foolish.

Why do you think Beloved did so poorly at the box office?

In 1998, when I was doing Beloved, the constant question was, “Why do you want to do another slave story?” And I was like, “Another slave story? Okay, so we saw Glory, how many have you seen? How many stories have we heard about World War II? How many stories have we heard about the Holocaust?” There isn’t one story to be told about slavery and that’s it.

Did the public’s rejection of Beloved play a part in the 15-year hiatus from doing a feature film?

Yeah, it played a part in that. That and I was busy working on this little show called The Oprah Show…

Ah, yes, that little show. So tell me what was your favorite part about working with director Lee Daniels?

Okay, Lee Daniels… He is cray-cray sometimes but I love that about him. Because Lee couldn’t be who he is without it, and anybody who works with him will tell you, he’s a little cray-cray but he’s cray-cray genius. Lee will not accept anything less than the truth. In many of the scenes he just left the camera rolling looking for the moment that we were uncomfortable, because that’s when it gets real. With Lee, you know that you are going to do your best work. He makes you stay there until you get it.

For more of our chat with Oprah, pick up the latest issue of JET Magazine, which is on newsstands nationwide now. Also look for Lee Daniels’ The Butler in theatres Friday, August 16.