Oprah Winfrey is letting her fans know that she had full privilege to call Maya Angelou by her first name.
The media mogul posted a photo on her Instagram page of her and the famous poet and author laughing and embracing each other. In her caption, Oprah, 65, shared that Angelou would’ve been celebrating her 91st birthday on Thursday. She also shared that the photo was her favorite of the two and compared their bond to one between a mother and daughter. While many of Winfrey’s 16 million followers enjoyed the sentimental post, including Reese Witherspoon, Chelsea Handler, and Jennifer Garner, one commenter by the username @polo.daily decided to tell the Greenleaf producer that they felt she was disrespecting the late artist, per Hot New Hip Hop.
“Ms. Angelou to you Oprah,” the user said. “You have no license to call her Maya. She will always be Ms. Angelou.”
However, Oprah, who has known Angelou since 1970, took some time out to inform the user that she had clearance by her friend in a classy way.
“She actually gave me permission after the 2nd or 3rd visit to her home to call her ‘Maya.’ Believe me, I’ve witnessed when other folk did NOT have that permission,” the OWN creator commented back.
Many Instagram users quickly came to Winfrey’s defense, even questioning the user’s motivation for writing the comment. Others, however, sided with the commenter because of the former daytime talk show host’s interview with Wade Robson and James Safechuck, the two men who were at the center of the Leaving Neverland documentary back in March.
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Maya would have been 91 today! This is my favorite picture of us. Even in death I feel the “unbroken continuity” of her mother-sister-friendship referenced in the Henry Scott Holland canon ????????❤️ Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away to the next room. I am I and you are you. Whatever we were to each other, That, we still are. Call me by my old familiar name. Speak to me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without effect. Without the trace of a shadow on it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same that it ever was. There is absolute unbroken continuity. Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you. For an interval. Somewhere. Very near. Just around the corner. All is well.
The user’s comment comes weeks after a viral video of the I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings author on a television show from the 1990s began to resurface. According to Newsweek, in the video, a teenage girl from the audience asked Angelou her thoughts on interracial relationships and called her “Maya,” which a then 62-year-old Angelou quickly corrected. In the clip, she informed the girl that the young woman had no “license” to call her by her first name and that Angelou was the girl’s elder and deserved to be treated as such.
The viral clip sparked a debate on Twitter shortly after it was posted. While many users agreed with Angelou’s comments to the girl, some claimed the civil rights activist was “rude” and felt she was speaking to the girl in a condescending way. This shocked screenwriter Pierre Phipps, who was the first to post the clip, which received 2.4 million views in two days.
Angelou passed away in 2014 due to heart problems. Winfrey spoke at the writer’s funeral and shared that losing the world-renowned artist was like losing a family member.
“She was there for me always, guiding me through some of the most important years of my life,” Winfrey said. “The world knows her as a poet but at the heart of her, she was a teacher. ‘When you learn, teach. When you get, give’ is one of my best lessons from her.”