Tag Archives: Oprah Winfrey

The Butler: The Personal is Political

23 Aug

OPRAH WINFREY and FOREST WHITAKER star in THE BUTLER My husband and I went to movie night on $5 Tuesdays here in Portland. We finally got to see the much acclaimed The Butler.  Of course, I would probably see anything with Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding, Jr, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda, and Vanessa Redgrave.   This all-star cast did not let anyone down.  While all of them give fantastic performances, I have to say that Whitaker and Winfrey give nothing less than Academy Award winning performances.   Some may remember that Whitaker earned an Academy  Award for his stellar performance in the Last King of Scotland. However, sadly Winfrey was robbed of an academy award for her stellar performance as Sofia in one of my favorite movies of all time, The Color Purple. 

The Butler does a marvelous job of weaving threads of fiction and non-fiction to create a compelling story of one man’s awakening to the realization that the personal is political against a backdrop of our nations’ ugly history around race.  If only race relations could be relegated to the past, but they cannot be yet — we still have so far to go.   Everything we do and in every way we live our lives, we are making a political statement.

The movie does a phenomenal job capturing the series of presidents under which Cecil Gains (Forest Whitaker) serves.  While LBJ was not someone I would want to my house for dinner, he was a great president and one of his greatest legacies was the Voting Rights Act of 1964, which has now been gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Sadly, the movie also exposes the great flaws of the Reagans and how Reagan’s stand on apartheid put him on the wrong side of history.  Fonda does an amazing job of portraying Nancy Reagan.

I loved that the movie delved into the Freedom Riders and the need for the Black Panther movement.  However, I was sad that Bayard Rustin was not mentioned at all.  I am glad to see that both Rustin and Winfrey will be receiving awards later this year.

Winfrey is just as amazing in The Butler as she was in The Color Purple.  Her character, Gloria, is a complex alcoholic grappling with a husband working as a subversive — albeit he does not know his job is in and of itself subversive — and losing a son to the Vietnam War. (Another waste of human lives for a war that should never have been.)

Just to prove how much we need this movie, a theater in Kentucky has refused to screen The Butler.  So much for freedom of speech.  My esteem (while already quite low because of Rand Paul) just dropped even further.

We were glued to our seats during the entire movie and I so hope most people in the United States see this movie.  The Civil Rights Movement is not over–we still have a long way to go and we still so desperately need people like John Lewis.  Let me know what you think of the movie.


Social Justice and Presidential Medal of Freedom Honorees

12 Aug

2013PresMedFreedomSocJusThis year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Presidential Medal of Freedom  Awards, established by President John F. Kennedy.   For me, this year is particularly impressive because it is also the 50th anniversary of the Freedom March, which was organized by one of my personal heroes, Bayard Rustin, who has been celebrated several times on this blog.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.  While I am not going to address all 16 recipients, I would like to take some time to recognize a handful that I consider Heroes of the World.

Bayard Rustin: I am sad this is a posthumous award, but he so deserves to be celebrated and acknowledged.  Not enough people know that it was Bayard Rustin, close confidante to Dr. King, who worked with King on techniques for nonviolent resistance.  Rustin was an openly gay black man working tirelessly for civil rights.  I cannot fully articulate my admiration for this man.  Of course at the time he was working with Dr. King, it was illegal just to be homosexual.  Some believe that Rustin’s effectiveness was compromised because he was openly gay.  Unfortunately, Rustin started to worry that his integral part in the civil rights movement would undermine the efficacy of the movement and thus offered to step aside.  King supported Rustin’s move to step aside.  As much as I respect and honor Dr. King, I wish he would have shown more support for Rustin.  Let us not forget that it was Rustin that organized the March on Washington.

Sally Ride: Sadly this is also a posthumous award. The world lost a shining light last year when Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, died from pancreatic cancer. She was only 61. She received a bachelor’s degree in English and physics from Stanford and went on to get a PhD in physics, studying astrophysics and free electron laser physics. She responded to a newspaper ad recruiting for the space program and became one of the first women in the program in 1978.

She became an integral part of the space shuttle program and in 1983 became America’s first woman and, at 32, the youngest American in space. Over her NASA career she logged over 340 hours in space. She was the recipient of numerous awards including the National Space Society’s von Braun award. She retired from NASA in 1987 but remained active in education and science. She taught physics at UC San Diego and was director of the California Space Institute. Ride’s most powerful legacy is Sally Ride Science, the program she launched in 2001. The mission of the organization is to

make a difference in girls’ lives, and in society’s perceptions of their roles in technical fields. Our school programs, classroom materials, and teacher trainings bring science to life to show kids that science is creative, collaborative, fascinating, and fun.

Sally Ride also wrote a number of science education books.  I am exceedingly grateful that I had the opportunity to have met Sally Ride.

Gloria Steinem: I have to say that Gloria Steinem is one of the reasons why I wanted to become a social worker.  Steinem is an icon of social justice for women, the LGBT community,  the disenfranchised and all marginalized and targeted populations. Steinem has dedicated her life to creating a level playing field for women, while at the same time embracing and working on issues for all marginalized peoples. In my humble opinion, Seinem’s voice is one of the most important in the 20th and 21st Centuries. My first reading of Revolution From Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, spoke to me as a gay man and how institutionalized oppression can take its toll and how we must unite to speak our own truth. As most of you know, Steinem co-founded Ms. Magazine and helped a culture learn about the power of words: Miss, Mrs. and Ms. I have heard Ms. Steinem speak three times and each time I left in awe and inspired. I don’t understand any of her detractors, for she speaks with such love and compassion. Listening to Steinem, one realized how fully she understands deep rooted patriarchy, misogyny, and oppression. I dare say, her detractors have never heard her speak, nor have ever read anything she has written. Yes, she supports a woman’s right to govern her own body–a controversy that would not exist if there were legislation trying to control what men could do with their bodies. I applaud Gloria Steinem for her courage and for her contributions to social justice, she encourages and inspires us all to understand more about the intersections of oppression.

Besides these personal heroes, three other honorees are particularly notable for their roles in social justice.
  • Oprah Winfrey has used her power and wealth to work hard for women’s rights and education; she is also a champion of the LGBT community. The fact that one of the most powerful, wealthy and recognizable people in the world is a woman of color is of great value in itself.  She is still creating an amazing legacy!
  • Sen. Daniel Inouye also receives a posthumous medal. He served nearly 50 years in Congress, elected when Hawaii became a state; he was the first Japanese American to serve in either chamber. During his long service he was a tireless champion of human rights, supporting civil rights for all including the LGBT community.
  • Patricia Wald is a well-respected appellate judge and a pioneer. She was one of the first women to graduate from Yale Law School. She was also the first woman appointed to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, where she later served as Chief Judge.  She also served on the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague and currently works for the Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

It is truly wonderful to see such champions of social justice receive this great honor.

Wednesday Word of the Week, June 1

1 Jun

There's nobody like her.

This week’s word is: IDOL

a material effigy that is worshipped as a god
someone who is adored blindly and excessively
an ideal instance; a perfect embodiment of a concept
– all courtesy of Macmillan Dictionary Online

Last week saw someone often held up as an idol host her last show: Oprah Winfrey. I must confess that I watch very little television and have seen only snippets of Oprah’s show over the years. Nonetheless, she has been a major media presence for most of my life and I have a good sense of who she is and what she has done. With that knowledge and a little research, I have to wonder what kind of idol she may be.

Oprah is clearly not an EFFIGY

a representation of a person (especially in the form of sculpture) – Macmillan Dictionary Online

so although she may be worshipped as a god (of ratings?), this definition fails.

Arguably, Oprah has been adored by millions. Is that adoration blind or excessive? Something must compel 14 million people to watch her show. If she didn’t hypnotize or bribe them, either they were blind fools or she really had something to offer. What could it have been? Did it relate to that third definition? Has Oprah been an IDEAL?

the best example of something that you can think of or imagine – Macmillan Dictionary Online

In terms of financial success and viewership, absolutely. Considering these standards for being an ideal idol, however is a bit recursive. In what way was she the best?

Without a doubt, Oprah has been a pioneer for women in media. Many came before her, and many have followed; her success, however remains unique and provided a much needed model for women and other minorities. The best? Probably not. The most well-known? Quite possibly. In terms of impact, her visibility matters.

Many have also credited her new take on the talk show with creating a safe forum for many people to share their issues and their humanity with the American public. No less than Michael Bronski has said

In the recent past, lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgendered people had almost no presence on television. With the invention and propagation of tabloid talk shows such as Jerry Springer, Jenny Jones, Oprah, and Geraldo, people outside the sexual mainstream now appear in living rooms across America almost every day of the week.

Her role may have been somewhat passive and ratings-based, but it made a difference. So much of a difference, in fact, that Oprah thanked the LGBT community for their active support during her final show.

As a philanthropist, Oprah has raised, channeled, and donated hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. She is routinely listed among the top 50 philanthropists in the world, often topping the list of celebrity philanthropists. One may quibble with her choices, but her generosity is not in question.

Looking at the Forbes list of the most powerful celebrities shows a group sadly lacking in generosity. That makes the truly generous like Lady Gaga and Oprah stand out and deserve recognition. It makes one wonder why Oprah chose someone like Tom Hanks, whose philanthropy is limited, as her final MC or the social-justice-impaired Will Smith as a final guest.

Oprah has made some missteps. Choosing corporate partners for her generosity that have questionable or deeply flawed histories (like Wal-Mart) when she could pick (and subsidize) anyone, shows her crassly commercial side. Her adherence to commercial broadcasting and televising gimmicks also fits that model.

Nonetheless, she has always made some effort to make a difference. She has been a pioneer, a philanthropist, and a provider of platforms whose influence cannot be overstated. It remains to be seen what path she will walk next. I suspect that she will not be out of the limelight, even without her show, and that she will try to make the world a better place in some way. Most of us will never have the chances she has had, and few who do make half as many good choices as Oprah. Let’s not sing her praises too loudly, then, but thank her for what she has done well, and look forward to what she might do next.

An ideal? Not really. An idol? In fairness, not quite by any of the definitions. A flawed, overexposed, clever, tenacious businesswoman whose impact has improved the lives of many? Absolutely, and by any definition, clearly an

unusual or different from anyone or anything else, usually in a way that you admire – Macmillan Dictionary Online


Hail Lady Gaga: 2011’s Most Powerful Celebrity

20 May

Integrity can be Powerful

Congratulations to Lady Gaga, just named Forbes’ most powerful celebrity of 2011. She unseats Oprah Winfrey for only the third time in the past several years. While Oprah’s cash haul ($290 million) was substantially greater than our Lady Gaga’s ($90 million), Forbes uses a variety of measures to rank their list. The factors include (with Lady Gaga’s rank):

  • Dollars earned (8th)
  • Presence on TV and radio (3rd)
  • Press coverage (2nd)
  • Web presence (1st)
  • Social media presence (1st)

As the makers of the list observe, the #1 celebrity truly understands the power of online tools, which are critical to success in a rapidly changing market of short attention spans.

[Lady] Gaga is there not just because of the $90 million she earned with a monster tour, but also because of her 32 million Facebook fans and 10 million Twitter followers–aka Little Monsters–who helped move 1 million digital downloads of her recent single “Born This Way” in only five days. They’re also happy to buy the MAC makeup, Monster headphones and Virgin Mobile phones she features in her videos.

As regular readers of TSM will understand, we are thrilled to see a celebrity who regularly practices integrity and promotes equality achieve such success and authority. Comparing Lady Gaga’s stand against Target with Oprah’s celebration of Wal-Mart makes this year’s result particularly cheering. The majority of the Top 10 list are celebrities who have done little beyond increase their own wealth and power in the past year (with the exception of serial do-gooders U2 and the very mixed bag of Sir Elton John, champion of AIDS research and Rush Limbaugh crooner). In that context, Lady Gaga’s position is very heartening indeed. Let’s hope that Target is kicking itself for losing a lucrative, powerful partner while standing by its homophobia.

Wednesday Word of the Week: April 6

6 Apr

Privilege speaks for itself

This week’s word is: PRIVILEGE

a special benefit that is available only to a particular person or group – Macmillan Dictionary Online

With the ascendancy of the tea party mentality, this country is seeing an increased resistance to any acknowledgment of privilege. In some ways, this is understandable. One of the principle underlying myths of America is that anyone can achieve anything simply by applying sufficient effort.

Many deniers of privilege will point to Oprah Winfrey, for example, and claim that one powerful African-American woman refutes the simple daily power of being white, male, Christian, and heterosexual. Exceptions will exist to most rules; they do not, however, reverse the rule.

One problem with the concept of privilege is that – as with many words – there are many definitions. Most deniers seem to run afoul of a common definition:

a way of life that involves having many advantages and opportunities without having to work hard for them – Macmillan Dictionary Online

It makes sense that a hard-working blue-collar white, male, Christian, heterosexual with a reasonable if unremarkable standard of living would take umbrage at this definition. This, however, is not the concept of privilege. Look back at the first definition: privilege is the state in which some people must work harder or longer or differently to achieve the same results, if those results are possible at all.

Acknowledgment of privilege does nothing to take away from individual success and hard work. Any individual, regardless of their background, may struggle to succeed or benefit from extraordinary effort. Privilege is the state that requires unequal effort from two otherwise equal people.

For a practical and easy-to-grasp view of privilege, the work of Peggy McIntosh is invaluable. While the questions as posed in this link are directed at race, one can easily substitute gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability and engage in the same mental exercise.

Sadly, the louder one shouts about the lack of privilege, the more likely they benefit from it.

  • Roy Den Hollander can bloviate against feminism on the Colbert Report, but his income is almost certainly 20% greater than that of a woman with equivalent background.
  • Andrew Breitbart can argue that he lampoons the Obamas solely because of their positions of power, but his methodology is clearly racist and takes advantage of his privilege.
  • When
  • Pseudo-christians can argue on social media and newspaper feedback sites that the “homosexual agenda” interferes with their rights; they are simply wrong. Christian privilege should never be abused to block simple human rights.
  • Nor should they practice the stark hypocrisy of denying rights to Muslims based solely on their religion. Funny how that freedom of religion thing can be so contextual.

Privilege is real. Any person may be able to point to someone with more advantages, but this is not the point. Intelligent, caring, credible human beings acknowledge what they have and want the best for others. After all, part of the Christian, American ethic is supposed to be

the state of being equal, especially in having the same rights, status, and opportunities – Macmillan Dictionary Online


Women’s History, January 29

29 Jan

Happy Birthday, Germaine Greer.  Greer is regarded as one of the most significant feminist voices of the late 20th century. Her best known book was The Female Eunuch, described in her own words, in summary, as:

We can only speculate about the causes of this new activity. Perhaps the sexual sell was oversell. Perhaps women have never really believed the account of themselves which they were forced to accept from psychologists, religious leaders, women’s magazines and men. Perhaps the reforms which did happen eventually led them to the position from which they could at last see the whole perspective and begin to understand the rationale of their situation. Perhaps because they are not enmeshed in unwilling childbirth and heavy menial labour in the home, they have had time to think. Perhaps the plight of our society has become so desperate and so apparent that women can no longer be content to leave it to other people. The enemies of women have blamed such circumstances for female discontent. Women must prize this discontent as the first stirring of the demand for fife; they have begun to speak out and to speak to each other. The sight of women talking together has always made men uneasy; nowadays it means rank subversion. ‘Right on!

Second Wave Feminist

Greer also had a great sense of humor as we saw in her cameo role in the AbFab series, where she plays Edwina’s mother in a dream sequence. We need more Germaine Greers!

Happy Birthday, Oprah Winfrey.  Winfrey is perhaps the best known celebrity in the world.

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