In the last few weeks, Time magazine has dubbed Oprah Winfrey “The Queen of TV” and Vanity Fair called her an “empire.” TV Guide mused, “What can’t she do?”
Well, for one thing, Oprah can’t stop the rain. At the New York City premiere of “Beloved” last week, a crowd of hundreds waited hours in a downpour just to catch a glimpse of Winfrey. As she stepped out of her limo, she waved, shook hands with soggy fans and paused to hear questions shouted by the crowd. “Go see this film — it’s important,” Winfrey yelled back.
Her comment is typical of the woman who became rich and famous for being real on daytime TV: Despite the glitz, glam and myriad magazine covers, America’s favorite girlfriend continues to deliver a matter-of-fact message and down-to-earth advice. And when she took Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Beloved” — and its complex, strong female voices — under her wing, the result is, not surprisingly, a monumental movie.
Besides providing her with a role that has Oscar potential, Winfrey says she views “Beloved” as a way to do good.”I want people to see the humanity of our history — it’s a gift,” she says.
“We spend so much time today on race issues. I hope this movie breaks down some of the barriers.” The movie marks her first starring role since making her big-screen debut in “The Color Purple” in 1985, a performance which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Winfrey is also hopeful that African-Americans will draw strength from the film’s message. “It’s not a movie about what we did, but who we are,” she says. “It’s about courage and conviction and the power within yourself.” Of making the many violent scenes in which Sethe is abused on the plantation, Winfrey says, “There were times my nerves were raw and I was hysterical. … But all the sorrow, all the pain I had to confront in becoming this character — it took me to a knowing place.”
Actress Thandie Newton, 26, plays Beloved, a young woman Sethe believes to be her own daughter reincarnated. “She has the spirit of a child in a woman’s body,” Newton explains. “She’s come back from heaven to find her mother.”
Despite roles in “Jefferson in Paris” and “Interview with the Vampire,” Newton comes to the film a relative unknown. But she knows that’s about to change. “At the beginning, I had no idea the impact this movie was going to have,” Newton says. “It changed my life, and I think it will change your life if you see it.”