Leave it to Oprah Winfrey to deliver such a powerful speech when accepting the Cecille B. DeMille Award at the 2018 Golden Globes on Sunday night—making her the first black woman to ever receive the honor—that the "Oprah for president" calls became practically unavoidable. Even Meryl Streep said by way of her endorsement that after a speech like that, Winfrey "doesn't have a choice" in the matter.
Winfrey's careful attention to racism, classism, and sexism throughout her speech, in particular shining a light on the recent death of Recy Taylor, a black woman whom six white men abducted and raped in the '40s yet whose case never went to trial, certainly helped suggest that Winfrey belongs in office (even as others have questioned if it's really wise for America to have another media personality president). Wherever you stand on Oprah 2020, though, there's no denying that Winfrey is essentially the president when it comes to motivational speaking—even after a standing ovation, Winfrey had the wind to give the reporters assembled backstage a pep talk rather than the perfunctory platitudes. At a certain point, some stopped taking notes and just started clapping, and one journalist even dropped all pretenses of being on the job to ask Winfrey about his personal ambitions to live out his dream and work in film.
"Do the work that comes from the soul of you," Winfrey responded to the journalist with an intimacy that Vanity Fair characterized as "though they were girlfriends." "The stories that you grew up with that bring you passion, that you not only yearn to tell [but] if you don’t tell them, they won’t be told ...The key to fulfillment, success, and contentment in life is aligning your personality with what your soul came to do," she continued. "When you can use your personality to serve what that thing is, you can be successful . . . I would say all the great, wonderful experiences of my life have come from working on the interior of myself.” Pointing to herself, she added, “That is why this feels so authentic, because it actually is."
Winfrey started off by sharing that the greatest lesson she's learned was from Maya Angelou, who told her, "When people show you who they are, you should believe them the first time. Your problem is it takes you 29 times to learn that lesson from someone wearing a different skirt or a different pair of pants." Winfrey said she's moved on from giving people too many chances by learning to "assess other people’s actions" in business, as well as her personal life—like remembering that "when someone talks to you about other people, know that they’re talking about you behind your back, too."
When asked for the advice she'd give to her seven-year-old self, whom she described as "so sad," Winfrey instead spoke to the moment: "I would say this to anyone in this room: You have no idea the power of noticing another human being and what it feels like when somebody knows that they have been seen by you. It is the greatest offering you can give." It's a lesson that, it turns out, she's learned from hundreds of guests on her talk show, including everyone from Beyoncé to convicted murderers, all of whom turned to her immediately after the cameras were off to ask how she thought it went.
"They would say the same thing: ‘How was that?’ I started to see that there was this common thread in our humanity. Everyone wants to know, ‘how was that,’ ‘did you hear me,’ and ‘did what I say mean something to you.’ I would have to say that recognizing that in other people has helped me become a person of compassion ... who can interview anyone about anything, because I know the core of you is the core of me."
Okay, maybe that last part is a bit of a stretch coming from, well, Oprah, but the fact that Winfrey was relentlessly humble throughout the night, actually saying she didn't think she was deserving of the Cecil B. DeMille award. Winfrey recalled one day asking Reese Witherspoon how many movies she'd made while they were both on the set of Ava DuVernay's A Wrinkle in Time adaptation—a question which Witherspoon responded to with, which Winfrey repeated in Witherspoon's southern accent, "Oh, honey child, I have done so many I don’t even know."
"I thought, ‘Okay, well I’ve made five,’" Winfrey recalled, making the case that Oprah in Hollywood might just be Oprah at her most relatable. "When it comes to film, I am really the new kid on the block."
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