Oprah Talks Black History At ‘The Butler’ Press Conference

Niki Cruz - Author
By

Aug. 7 2013, Updated 1:50 p.m. ET

It’s been fifteen years since we’ve seen Oprah Winfrey up on the big screen. Fast forward to 2011, and it was impossible to think that Oprah would ever find the time, or energy to go back to acting. So why would she agree to take a role in The Butler, especially since at the time, she was in the middle of launching her own network?

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To understand her answer, is to see Lee Daniels’ The Butler in its entirety. The historical film is a revolution in African-American cinema, in that it’s from a black perspective, but doesn’t talk down to “White America.” Not only does it fill in the pages in between antiquated history text books, but it brings it to life in a way we haven’t seen before. Oprah is the matriarch as Gloria, a philandering, alcoholic, who has to watch her husband Cecil Gaines, (Forest Whitaker) work extremely grueling hours during his 34-years as a White House butler. Oprah is just one piece that rounds out the stunning cast of Lee Daniels’ The Butler. The ensemble cast also includes Forest Whitaker, David Oyelowo, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber, Alan Rickman, Robin Williams, Minka Kelly, John Cusack, Jesse Williams, Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, Jane Fonda, Mariah Carey, Vanessa Redgrave, and Cuba Gooding Jr.

Oprah Winfrey and select members of the cast gathered at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City to discuss Lee Daniels’ powerful and very relevant film. The Inquisitr’s Niki Cruz highlights Oprah’s thoughts on African-American history and her own journey.

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“I’m a student of my own history.”

Oprah Winfrey: I’m a student of my own history, of African-American history. I believe that when you know who you are, you will have the ability to move forward with not just the strength of yourself, but the strength of your entire ancestry. [It is] the ability to tell that story of The Butler in an entertaining way that would offer an opportunity for the rest of the world to experience a part of our history.

“People can see that we are more alike than different.”

Winfrey: When you see the two of us at the bus station sending our son off to college, it’s how every parent regardless of race, economic background, feels when you have to let go of your son. I wanted to allow the spirit and integrity of all of the African-American women who stood by their men and held their families together with their grip, and allowed their own dreams to be oppressed. I thought a lot about what it meant to be a woman in the 50s and 60s, a woman like Gloria, or a woman like myself, or anyone in this room. All of us got a little fire inside. She’s a composite of women of that era who sacrificed. The Butler couldn’t be who he was had it not been for her.

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The duality of faces – a face for the white people, and a face for your own:

Winfrey: I don’t feel that at all. When I was 19, and I was interviewing Jesse Jackson as a young reporter in Nashville, Tennessee, he said to me then, “One of your gifts is to be able to be yourself on TV.” I have made a career on my own authenticity. I don’t have one face that I present to the white world, and another to the black world. I talk to my dogs the same way I’m talking right now. It’s always been in sync to me. I say that with great pride and homage and honor to the people who were the generation before me. I am a daughter of a maid, and my grandmother was a maid, and her mother was a maid, and her mother was a slave. I felt validated by the war that the Butler and his entire generation fought in their own way. Because of the courage, and conviction of a generation’s shoulders that we all stood on, I never had to do it.

“Lee Daniels is a truth seeker.”

Winfrey: I had worked with him on Precious during the behind the scenes, so I wanted the opportunity to be in his hands. Contrary to what people assume about me, I’m really not a control freak. I have lived through the Kennedy assassination, so I definitely had some opinions about that. Lee Daniels is a truth seeker. He will literally not let any of his actors get away with a breath that is a false moment. He doesn’t allow you as an actor to get away with anything that remotely appears to be fake.

LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER opens in theaters on August 16.

[Image credit: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images]

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