Thursday, October 16, 2008

Oprah Winfrey - First Lady of Liberal and African America

Thanks, Wikipedia.

Oprah Gail Winfrey (born January 29, 1954) is an American television host, media mogul and philanthropist. Her internationally-syndicated talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, has earned her multiple Emmy Awards and is the highest-rated talk show in the history of television.

She is also an influential book critic, an Academy Award nominated actress and a magazine publisher.

She has been ranked the richest African American of the 20th century, the most philanthropic African American of all time and was once the world's only black billionaire.

She is also the most influential woman in the world.

Born in rural Mississippi to a poor teenaged single mother, and later raised in an inner city Milwaukee neighbourhood, Winfrey was raped at the age of nine, and at fourteen, gave birth to a son who died in infancy.

Sent to live with the man she calls her father, a barber in Tennessee, Winfrey landed a job in radio while still in high school and began co-anchoring the local evening news at the age of 19.

Her emotional ad-lib delivery eventually got her transferred to the daytime talk show arena and after boosting a third-rated Chicago talk show to first place, she launched her own production company and became internationally syndicated.

Credited with creating a more intimate confessional form of media communication, she popularised and revolutionised the tabloid talk show genre pioneered by Phil Donahue, and broke 20th century taboos by allowing gays, transsexuals and transgender people to enter the mainstream.

By the mid 1990s she had reinvented her show with a focus on literature, self-improvement and spirituality.

Though criticised for unleashing confession culture and promoting controversial self-help fads, she is generally admired for overcoming adversity to become a benefactor to others.

Oprah Winfrey was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to unmarried parents.

Her mother, Vernita Lee, was a housemaid and her father, Vernon Winfrey, was a coal miner and later worked as a barber before becoming a city councilman.

Winfrey's father was in the Armed Forces when she was born. After her birth, Winfrey's mother travelled north and Winfrey spent her first six years living in rural poverty with her grandmother, Hattie Mae Lee, who was so poor that Winfrey often wore dresses made of potato sacks, causing the local children to make fun of her.

Her grandmother taught her to read before the age of three and took her to the local church, where she was nicknamed "The Preacher" for her ability to recite Bible verses.

At six, Winfrey moved to an inner-city neighbourhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her mother, who was less supportive and encouraging than her grandmother had been, due in large part to the long hours Vernita Lee worked as a maid.

When she was 14, she became pregnant, but the baby died shortly after birth.

Her mother sent her to live with her father in Nashville, Tennessee.

Vernon was strict, but encouraging and made her education a priority.

Winfrey became an honours student, was voted Most Popular Girl and joined her high school speech team at East Nashville High School.

She won an oratory contest, which secured her a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, a historically Black institution, where she studied communication.

At age 17, Winfrey won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant.

She also attracted the attention of the local Black radio station WVOL, which hired her to do the news part-time.

She worked there during her senior year of high school and again while in her first two years of college.

Winfrey's career choice in media did not surprise her grandmother, who once said that ever since Winfrey could talk, she was on stage.

Working in local media, she was both the youngest news anchor and the first Black female news anchor at Nashville's WLAC-TV.

She moved to Baltimore's WJZ-TV in 1976 to co-anchor the six o'clock news.

She was then recruited to join Richard Sher as co-host of WJZ's local talk show People Are Talking, which premiered in 1978.

In 1983, Winfrey relocated to Chicago to host WLS-TV's low-rated half-hour morning talk-show, AM Chicago.

The first episode aired in 1984.

Within months after Winfrey took over, the show went from last place in the ratings to overtaking Donahue as the highest rated talk show in Chicago.

It was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show, expanded to a full hour and broadcast nationally beginning 1986.

Winfrey's syndicated show quickly doubled its national audience, displacing Donahue as the number one day-time talk show in America.

In 1993, Winfrey hosted a rare prime-time interview with Michael Jackson which became the fourth most watched event in American television history as well as the most watched interview ever, with an audience of one hundred million.

As well as hosting and appearing on television shows, Winfrey co-founded the women's cable television network Oxygen. She is also the president of Harpo Productions (Oprah spelled backwards).

In 1985, Winfrey co-starred in Steven Spielberg's epic film adaptation of Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Colour Purple.

She earned immediate acclaim as Sofia, the distraught housewife.

The following year Winfrey was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, but she lost to Anjelica Huston.

The Colour Purple has now been made into a Broadway musical and opened late 2005, with Winfrey credited as a producer.

In 1998, Winfrey produced and starred in the film Beloved, based upon Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name.

To prepare for her role as Sethe, the protagonist and former slave, Winfrey experienced a 24-hour simulation of the experience of slavery, which included being tied up and blindfolded and left alone in the woods.

In 2005, Harpo Productions released another film adaptation of a famous American novel, Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937).

The made-for-television film Their Eyes Were Watching God was based upon a teleplay by Suzan-Lori Parks, and starred Halle Berry in the lead female role.

She has voiced for Charlotte's Web, the 2006 film as Gussie the goose. She is also the voice of Judge Bumbleden in Bee Movie (2007) co-starring the voices of Jerry Seinfeld and Renee Zellweger.

Winfrey publishes two magazines namely O, The Oprah Magazine and O at Home.

She has co-authored five books.

She also owns, a website created by her company to provide resources and interactive content relating to her shows, magazines, book club and public charity.

Winfrey initiated Oprah’s Child Predator Watch List, through her show and website, to help track down accused child molesters. Within the first 48 hours, two of the featured men were captured.

Winfrey currently lives in The Promised Land, her 170,000 square metre estate with ocean and mountain views in Montecito, California, outside of Santa Barbara.

Winfrey also owns a house in Lavallette, New Jersey, an apartment in Chicago, an estate on Fisher Island off the coast of Miami, a ski house in Telluride, Colorado and property on the island of Maui, Hawaii.

She also owns a home on the island of Antigua.

Winfrey's show is based in Chicago, so she spends time there, specifically in the neighbourhood of Streeterville, but she otherwise resides in California.

Winfrey also owns a home in the exclusive town of Avalon, New Jersey.

Winfrey is engaged to Stedman Graham. They do not have children.

She has traced her ancestry to Liberia and is part-Native American.

In 2005, Winfrey was named the greatest woman in American history as part of a public poll The Greatest American. She was ranked Number 9 overall on the list of greatest Americans.

To her audience of more than 22 million mostly female viewers, she has become a postmodern priestess — an icon of church-free spirituality.

Winfrey has been criticised for her statements regarding religion. She once echoed writer and philosopher Eckhart Tolle by saying "God is a feeling experience and not a believing experience. If your religion is a believing experience then that's not truly God."

Winfrey's shows are watched in 140 countries, and the Arab World loves her.

In 1998, Winfrey began Oprah's Angel Network, a charity aimed at encouraging people around the world to make a difference in the lives of underprivileged others.

To date, Oprah's Angel Network has raised more than US$51,000,000 (US$1 million of which was donated by Jon Bon Jovi).

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Oprah asked her viewers to open their hearts — and they did.

Winfrey has also put 250 African-American men through college.

Winfrey was the recipient of the first Bob Hope Humanitarian Award at the 2002 Emmy Awards for services to television and film.

To celebrate two decades on national TV and to thank her employees for their hard work, Winfrey took her staff and their families (1065 people in total) on vacation to Hawaii in the summer of 2006.

Winfrey has recently exerted political influence, endorsing presidential candidate Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. This is the first time she has publically made such an endorsement.

Liberal filmmaker Michael Moore has praised Winfrey as the best president Americans will not have.

He and Oprah are firmly opposed to US foreign interventions in developing countries that refuse to kowtow to American capital, such as Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, China, Vietnam, North Korea, Argentina, Chile and Ecuador.

Nevertheless, they also condemn the brutal rule of some of these countries’ leaders and ex-leaders, and their hypocrisy with regards to “opposing pro-business policies of the West”.