Oprah Winfrey’s impact on American culture is being honored with an exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
“Watching Oprah: The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture,” which opens Friday and runs through June 2019, will feature “video clips, interview segments, movie costumes and personal photographs and journals to explore what has influenced Winfrey and how her work has shaped America,” according to The Washington Post.
“What’s interesting is the same way America thought about Walter Cronkite — you could trust Walter Cronkite and his opinion — they trust Oprah,” museum director Lonnie G. Bunch III told the outlet. “An African American woman becomes the person America turns to.”
Winfrey, 64, is the museum’s biggest single donor, giving $21 million over the years –– but Bunch made clear her donations did not influence the exhibition.
“We made sure there was a bright line, that this was done by the museum and museum scholars,” he said. “The fundraising was not through Oprah’s people.”
Museum curators Rhea L. Combs and Kathleen Kendrick worked together to fund and fact-check the upcoming exhibit. “In terms of content and narrative and the way the story is told, it’s the museum’s product,” Kendrick said. “The way we approached it was the way we approach all of our exhibitions.”
She added, “We’re providing a context for understanding not only who she is, but how she became a global figure, and how she is connected to broader stories and themes.”
The exhibit covers different stages of Winfrey’s life, including her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. “Civil rights, the women’s movement, the media and television landscape, she’s at this distinct intersection of all of these dynamic moments,” Combs said. “She becomes someone at the forefront of dealing with ideas, of discussing hot-button topics like racism and sexual orientation.”
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The middle section will focus on the Oprah Winfrey Show, which was the highest-rated talk show and ran for 25 years. “She used television as a social medium, convening conversations and creating these interactive experiences with people,” Kendrick said. “She’s offering lessons for living, social guidance in a way.
A third section will examine the mogul’s role as cultural influencer. “There are so many issues, about women, power, media, body image,” Bunch said. “This should be a popular show because of the impact of this person, but it is also a show that allows us to think about what it means that a woman who doesn’t fit the TV look could build a media empire and become an entrepreneur.”