News for 7/12/2005

Winfrey, Rusesabagina Given Freedom Awards

Associated Press Writer

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Oprah Winfrey and Paul Rusesabagina, whose heroism in the face of genocide inspired the movie "Hotel Rwanda," were announced Thursday as recipients of the National Civil Rights Museum's top honors.

The museum, built around the former Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, said Winfrey and Rusesabagina will receive its 2005 Freedom Awards.

Winfrey, who runs a media company that includes her television show, is being recognized for working to improve the lives of poor children in Africa and helping create a U.S. database of convicted child abusers.

She will receive the museum's National Freedom Award in November. Past recipients include King's widow, Coretta Scott King, and former Presidents Clinton and Carter.

Rusesabagina will receive the International Freedom Award, which also has been given to Nelson Mandela and Bono.

The museum said a new Lifetime Achievement Award for civil rights activism will be given to actress Ruby Dee and her late husband, Ossie Davis.

None of the recipients were at the announcement.

Rusesabagina was managing a Belgian hotel in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, when civil war broke out in 1994 between the Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups. An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people were killed, most of them Tutsis.

He hid more than 1,200 people in the hotel for over three months to prevent their slaughter by Hutu militias.

Museum Director Beverly Robertson described Winfrey as "a great humanitarian" who has used her Oprah Winfrey Foundation to provide scholarships and grants to help educate poor children in the United States and abroad.

"She has provided resources and money to build schools for at least 50,000 children in South Africa," Robertson said. "That is phenomenal. She doesn't have to do that."

The museum said it also was honoring Winfrey for her outspoken advocacy of the 1993 National Child Protection Act.

News for 6/26/2005

Oprah and the View From Outside Hermes' Paris Door

By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer

The one thing that Oprah Winfrey and Hermes agree on is that the talk show host did not get a chance to do any early-evening shopping recently at the company's Paris store. Why she was denied an opportunity to spend her money at the expensive boutique is what has gossip columnists, radio commentators and, in particular, the Internet reverberating with a chorus of girrrrrrlllll.

On June 14, Winfrey arrived at the Hermes shop at 24 Faubourg Saint-Honore. The street is well traveled by tourists and the well-to-do because of its abundance of famous designer boutiques. In the first (and untrue, both sides say) version of the incident, reported Monday in the New York Post, Hermes staff members stationed at the door failed to recognize Winfrey, as she was not in full glamour makeup with her TV hair. They denied her entry and, the gossip item claimed, told her that they have been "having a problem with North Africans lately."

The bloggers raced to their computers: "Oprah Musta Forgot She Is Black." "Oprah w/out makeup, hair done, etc. is really ugly. Seriously, I love Oprah, but what we see on TV is very different from how Oprah really looks."

"That's France for you."

On Wednesday, the New York Daily News weighed in with a different version of the story, saying Winfrey arrived just after the store had closed at 6:30 p.m. and there was no doubt about her identity. She saw shoppers still milling about inside and asked the Hermes staff at the door if she could dash in to make a quick purchase. A clerk said no, and so did a store manager. An unnamed "friend" quoted in the Daily News didn't use the term racism but suggested that if Celine Dion or Barbra Streisand had made a similar request, there wouldn't have been a problem. In this telling of the tale, the entire population of northern Africa was not maligned.

Internet postings often blended the two versions and were accompanied by outraged commentary, indignation and suggestions that Hermes start putting together an especially nice gift basket in the form of a crocodile Birkin. (The company had no comment on the subject of apologetic bouquets, jewelry or handbags.)

A spokeswoman at Winfrey's Harpo Productions confirmed the Daily News version of the story, saying that the incident was "Oprah's 'Crash' moment" -- a reference to the film in which racism unfolds in complex, subtle and surprising interactions. Winfrey also contacted Hermes' U.S. president to inform him of the incident. She plans to tell the story on her show when it returns from hiatus in September.

With the Internet painting an ever-grimmer portrait of the 168-year-old French company, Hermes issued a statement from its Paris headquarters apologizing for "not having been able to accommodate Ms. Winfrey and her team and to provide her with the service and care that Hermes strives to provide to each and every one of its customers worldwide. Hermes apologizes for any offense taken due to such circumstances."

The company also tells a slightly different version of the story. Hermes shuts its doors at 6:30, but on this particular evening the staff was preparing the store for a private event -- a presentation of ready-to-wear. As a result, there was a significant amount of activity in the boutique, which may have given the impression that shoppers were still browsing.

A Hermes spokeswoman said Winfrey arrived about 6:45, accompanied by three other people. A clerk and security guard were at the door and there was no discussion of North Africans or anyone else, according to the store's security videotape, which the company inspected after the incident. The guard explained that the store was closed. The clerk offered up her business card with an invitation for Winfrey to return the next day. The store manager, preparing for that evening's event, was not at the door.

Hermes regularly lavishes celebrities with all of the attention they have come to expect, the spokeswoman said. But Winfrey's visit was an after-hours surprise at a particularly inopportune moment.

One could argue that perhaps this was simply an example of employees not empowered to be proactive, even for a celebrity who could purchase every watch and handbag in the place and come back the next day for more. (The clerk, by the way, has not been forced to take up with an organ grinder on Boulevard Saint Germain; she remains gainfully employed.) It could be an example of a store treating a wealthy celebrity just like anyone else. It could be a case of rudeness. It could be racism. It could be a complicated blend of all that and more.

Hermes is a family-owned business that was founded as a harness shop in Paris in 1837. It is known for its luxuriously printed silk scarves and its handmade bags, namely the Birkin and the Kelly bag. It is one of fashion's most exclusive brands thanks to its high prices and its years-long Birkin waiting list that has risen to near mythic importance among high-end shoppers. The company makes little effort to reach a broad demographic. One of its silk squares retails for $320. A simple tie is $145. A basic Birkin costs about $6,000. A starter handbag is still a thousand-dollar investment.

Brands that cultivate an air of exclusivity breed paranoia, insecurity and suspicion as a byproduct. If the brand is perceived as being for a select few, there's a heightened sensitivity to the perception that the brand is not for you -- even if you happen to be extremely wealthy.

The fashion industry also is particularly ruthless about choosing its customers. Through sizing, pricing, geography and attitude, companies attempt to weed out those they don't deem representative of their image. There's a reason why so many designers steer clear of plus sizes. Fat women are not part of their fashion fantasy.

And there have been countless stories of well-known African Americans feeling snubbed. Cornel West in a three-piece suit couldn't get a cab in Manhattan. Vanessa Williams was mistaken for a waitress at a private dinner party even though she was wearing an evening gown. Condoleezza Rice -- before she became secretary of state -- reprimanded a salesgirl for showing her costume jewelry after she had requested the better pieces.

It is easy to believe that a clerk in a fancy store could be plagued by prejudices. But is it utterly naive to think she could also be indiscriminately brusque, dismissive or inflexible? The public probably will never know precisely what transpired in the case of Winfrey versus Hermes. The story has been taken over by the Internet, a forum not known for its subtlety and accuracy. (One posting had Winfrey going to Hermes to "get her hair done.")

People have argued that no matter what was going on inside the store, no matter what time it was, Winfrey -- the billionaire with millions of devoted fans who ask "How high?" when she says "Jump" -- should have been allowed to shop. It certainly would have been beneficial for the Hermes bottom line. But after-hours shopping is a favor, a perk. Not a right. There's nothing wrong with a store saying not tonight, madame, as long as the reason doesn't have anything to do with skin color. It's okay to say no to a celebrity, even when her name is Oprah.

No Room at the Boutique for Oprah

LOS ANGELES (Zap2it.com) Talk show host extraordinaire Oprah Winfrey is famous for her "My Favorite Things" episodes, but Hermes won't have items appearing on her show anytime soon.

The 51-year-old media mogul and her entourage were shocked when they were denied entry into the swank Paris boutique on Tuesday, June 14.

Employees explained that the store was closed to prepare for a public relations event, although Winfrey could still see people shopping inside a good 15 minutes past its 6:30 p.m. closing time. Stores often make exceptions for celebrities, allowing them a private run of the store after hours.

Oprah describes it herself as 'one of the most humiliating moments of her life,'" says Winfrey's friend Gayle King. "Her position is, 'I will shop where people appreciate my business, and I don't believe that any longer includes Hermes.'"

Hermes officially extended an apology to Winfrey in a statement released Tuesday (June 21): "Hermes regrets not having been able to welcome Madame Oprah Winfrey and the people accompanying her to give them all the attention and service that Hermes is committed to giving each of its clients in the world. Hermes expresses its sincere regrets for any misunderstanding that these circumstances could have caused."

Winfrey isn't having any of it though. A spokesperson for the mogul's Harpo Production revealed that when her show returns to the air in September, Winfrey plans to discuss her "Crash" moment. "Crash" is the ensemble film written and directed by Paul Haggis that deals with racial prejudice in Los Angeles.

Oprah Tops List of Power Celebs

LOS ANGELES (Zap2it.com) Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the most powerful celebrity of all?

The answer -- at least according to Forbes magazine -- is Oprah Winfrey. Are you shocked? Probably not.

Winfrey, who also regularly tops lists of most recognizable and most beloved celebrities, may rank below George Lucas when it comes to sheer financial haul and Bill Clinton may get more web hits and press mentions, but for clout, she apparently can't be topped. The magazine reports that Winfrey pocketed roughly $225 million last year, while also encouraging people to read dusty old books.

On last year's Forbes list, Winfrey ranked third, behind the winner Mel Gibson, who was riding on the wave of success from "The Passion of the Christ." Considering that Gibson has mostly vanished since that controversial epic, it isn't surprising the he swapped positions with Winfrey, falling to third. Tiger Woods, currently the second ranked golfer in the world, is also second on the Forbes list. (Read More....)

Oprah brings 'Gift' to U.S. moviegoers

By Liza Foreman

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - "Emmanuel's Gift," an uplifting African documentary narrated by Oprah Winfrey, is set for a U.S. theatrical release in September, distributor First Look Pictures said Thursday.

The film follows a young man with one leg from who rides a bicycle about 360 miles across his native Ghana to eradicate the country's negative perception of the disabled.

"Gift" was produced and directed by Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern. Its star will be presented with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award on July 17 at the ESPY Awards.

News for 5/30/2005

The following interview appeared in the May 30, 2005 issue of People Magazine

The following article appeared in the May 9, 2005 issue of People Magazine

News for 3/7/2005

Winfrey's Labor of Love

By John Crook

It took her many years to bring the project to fruition, but Oprah Winfrey says "Their Eyes Were Watching God," premiering Sunday, March 6, on ABC, was a labor of love.

Adapted by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks ("Topdog/Underdog") from a 1937 novel by Zora Neale Hurston, the TV movie stars Oscar winner Halle Berry as Janie Crawford, a strong-willed black woman in 1920s America whose turbulent personal journey takes her on a marital roller coaster with three very different men.

Winfrey, who produced the project in association with Quincy Jones after the two got into a bidding war over the book, says she was drawn to Hurston's novel because of its emphasis on Janie's personal search for love instead of timeworn social and political issues.

"I think that its really important for us to see black people, African-Americans, in a life that allows not only the history and legacy of the culture, but to show love," Winfrey says. "And that's often not been seen in a way that people can relate to. So this has been a story that I have loved and wanted to see come to life for so many years."

Some 12 years ago, Winfrey gave a copy of the book to Berry, but the younger actress had already read it in high school. Despite the difference in periods, Berry says Janie's character resonated with her.

"What Janie does is really unheard of for the times," she says. "She really was more of a modern woman who could really live in our society today. On the other side, it's still a time and place that isn't familiar to me, but I have lived the black experience, and the black side of my family is from the South. So their stories and experiences have been passed down to me for my entire life."

Winfrey hopes the TV movie brings new recognition to Hurston, who died in poverty in 1960.

"I hope it will introduce Zora Neale Hurston to a reading public that doesn't even know she exists," Winfrey says. "I'm hoping that it will elevate her to the kind of stature that she deserved while she was alive."

News for 3/2/2005

Oprah Says She Eyed Halle Berry for Role

LOS ANGELES (AP) - It's not always easy to cast an Oscar winner in a TV role, but Oprah Winfrey did just that for "Their Eyes Were Watching God."

Although they're friends, Winfrey said she was "a little nervous" about asking Halle Berry to star in the film _ which airs Sunday on ABC (9 p.m. EST) _ because she had won an Oscar for "Monster's Ball."

"I don't know what happens to you once you win an Academy Award," Winfrey told reporters recently, according to AP Radio. "I didn't know whether she was going to be, like, `Now I have an Oscar. I'm sorry. I cannot talk to you.' No, she's too sweet to do that. But I didn't know whether or not she would be interested in doing television."

Winfrey, who frequently championed books on her daytime talk show, produced the TV movie adaptation of the novel by Zora Neale Hurston.

"My grandmother taught me to read, and the information that I received in books allowed me to see at a very early age that there was a life beyond my front porch," she said.

"Their Eyes Were Watching God" also stars Michael Ealy, Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Ruby Dee. Berry stars as Janie Crawford, whose journey takes her through three marriages with very different men.

News for 10/26/2004

The following article appeared in the October 10, 2004 issue of TV Guide Magazine

The following article appeared in the September 27, 2004 issue of People Magazine

News for 10/17/2004

Winfrey, Cruise to Co-Host Nobel Concert

OSLO, Norway (AP) - Tom Cruise and Oprah Winfrey will host the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, honoring the 2004 laureate, Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai.

"They really wanted to do it, right from the start," concert organizer Odd Arvid Stroemstad told The Associated Press by telephone Wednesday. "They clearly know what the Nobel concert is, and what the Nobel Peace Prize is about."

As masters of ceremony for the Dec. 11 concert, Winfrey and Cruise will share the stage with plenty of high-profile entertainment.

Joss Stone, Andrea Bocelli, Diana Krall, Cyndi Lauper and Patti LaBelle, along with several Norwegian artists, are among those scheduled to perform.

Stroemstad said other celebrities are likely to be added to the roster.

The Nobel concert will be carried live in more than 100 countries, and traditionally draws some of the biggest names in show business. Last year, the event was hosted by Hollywood husband-and-wife Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

The 64-year-old Maathai, Kenya's deputy environment minister, became the first African woman to win the coveted peace prize, which was announced Oct. 8.

She was honored as founder of the Green Belt Movement, which has sought to empower women, improve the environment and fight corruption in Africa for almost 30 years.

Maathai will receive the $1.3 million prize at a Dec. 10 ceremony in Oslo, followed by a torchlight parade and banquet in her honor, and, the next day, the Nobel concert.

News for 8/16/2004

Oprah Winfrey Scheduled for Jury Duty

CHICAGO (AP) - Some defendants could be in for a jolt when talk show queen Oprah Winfrey shows up for jury duty in Cook County Criminal Court.

Winfrey is scheduled to appear Monday, along with about 300 other prospective jurors, Cook County sheriff's office spokeswoman Sally Daly said Thursday.

Winfrey will not receive special treatment once she's inside the courtroom, but she will be allowed to use an alternate entrance to avoid any problems, Daly said.

"Obviously, due to her popularity and her status, there is the potential _ if she would come in the front public way _ to cause a commotion, confusion or a possible security issue," Daly said.

A Winfrey spokeswoman confirmed Friday that the talk show host would be in court Monday for jury duty.

If she's not picked for a jury by the end of the day, she will still receive a check from the court for $17.20, said Allen Klein, jury supervisor.

News for 8/8/2004

Oprah Winfrey Adds 3 More Years to Show

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Oprah Winfrey can start making big anniversary plans. Winfrey signed with King World Productions to continue her top-rated "The Oprah Winfrey Show" through the 2010-11 television season, which would be its 25th year in syndication.

"The thought of taking the show to its 25th anniversary is both exhilarating and challenging," Winfrey said.

Just last year, Winfrey extended her contract by two more years, taking her through the 2007-2008. Previously, though, Winfrey, had talked about quitting after the 2005-2006 season.

Winfrey, 50, routinely appears on lists of Hollywood's most powerful figures and, in 2003, became the first black women to be included on Forbes magazine's tally of billionaires.

Her new three-year contract, announced Thursday by Winfrey's Harpo Productions and King World, calls for more Winfrey each year: Starting with the 2004-05 season, the number of new episodes will increase from 130 to 140.

The expanded production will hold through the 2009-10 season, but drop back to 130 episodes for the last year of the contract.

The Chicago-based program, which showcases Winfrey and A-list celebrity guests, continues to be a ratings powerhouse and has ranked first among talk shows for 71 consecutive "sweeps" periods.

In the last sweeps window of intense ratings measurement, the series posted its highest rating in seven years among households and women aged 18 to 54, King World said.

The talk show has already been renewed through 2011 on major owned-and-operated ABC stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Raleigh-Durham and Fresno, Calif.

The program airs on more than 200 U.S. stations and is distributed to more than 100 other countries.

News for 7/20/2004

Oprah Winfrey Gives $1 Million to Museum

CINCINNATI (AP) - Oprah Winfrey has given $1 million to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and is narrator of an educational film for the museum, its administrators said.

The $110 million museum, being built along the Ohio River, commemorates the secret Underground Railroad network that helped slaves escape from the South to the free North during the 1800s.

Winfrey, whose donation was announced Thursday, will narrate a short film introducing "Brothers of the Borderland," a film and interactive theater program. A reconstructed slave holding pen also will be part of the museum.

Celebrity supporters of the museum, many of whom are expected to participate in the center's dedication ceremonies Aug. 23, include Vanessa Williams, Angela Bassett, Muhammad Ali, Quincy Jones, Bono and Danny Glover.

Two of the center's three pavilions will be named after the families of Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson and former Procter & Gamble Co. chief executive John Pepper, who each donated $3 million to the museum.

Pepper joined with former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young to serve as chairmen of a fund-raising campaign for the museum.


News for 2/28/2004

Oprah Donates $5M to Morehouse College

From the Associated Press

ATLANTA - Talk-show host Oprah Winfrey has given Morehouse College another $5 million donation to fund scholarships at the Atlanta school.

The gift, announced Saturday night, brings to $12 million the total contributions to the college by Winfrey, making her the school's largest individual donor, said Morehouse spokeswoman Elise Durham.

Winfrey was in Atlanta Saturday to accept Morehouse's first "Candle for Lifetime Achievement in Humanitarian Service" award.

So far, scholarships funded by the talk-show host have helped about 250 students continue or complete their education, Durham said.

Winfrey said her original goal had been to put 100 students through school. She told the audience Saturday that she now wants to see 1,000 students get their diplomas.

Winfrey was one of several people honored during the 2,800-student school's gala. Other honorees included actor Ossie Davis, syndicated radio host Tom Joyner, Atlanta businessman Jesse Hill and U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop.

The following article appeared in the February 2, 2004 issue of People Magazine

News for 10/27/2003

The following interview appeared in the October 4, 2003 issue of TV Guide Magazine

News for 6/14/2003

Oprah Winfrey's Book Club to Return

AP National Writer

NEW YORK - Get ready for the return of a publishing phenomenon. Not the new Harry Potter but Oprah Winfrey's book club.

The talk-show host will announce her long-awaited pick on her show next Wednesday, nearly four months after revealing that she was bringing back her club and focusing on "classic" authors such as William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway.

"It's the book that brought back the Book Club," Winfrey said Friday in a statement about her upcoming selection. She had suspended her picks in April 2002, later saying she didn't have enough time to keep up monthly selections.

Fans will have plenty of time to read her comeback choice; the follow-up program will not air until the fall.

Winfrey had tentatively planned to name her club Traveling With the Classics. But a spokeswoman said it will be called, as it had been before, Oprah's Book Club. Winfrey is expected to make from three to five choices a year. The books likely will be written by both living and dead authors.

"The selections will be great books that have stood the test of time," said Winfrey spokeswoman Lisa Halliday.

The revival of Winfrey's club, coming just three days before the June 21 release of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," should prove more good news for the struggling publishing industry. Her choices, which most recently included Rohinton Mistry's "A Fine Balance" and Ann-Marie McDonald's "Fall on Your Knees," virtually guarantee hundreds of thousands of sales.

The book club started in 1996, with Jacquelyn Mitchard's "The Deep End of the Ocean" as Winfrey's first pick. The book was released with an initial printing of 100,000. Within a week of Winfrey's announcement, 640,000 copies were in print and the book moved up to No. 1 on the fiction best-seller lists of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Winfrey made 46 picks before announcing her final pick, Toni Morrison's "Sula," in April 2002.

Others, including the "Today" show and "Good Morning America," started their own clubs after Winfrey pulled hers. But none approach the impact of Oprah's Book Club.

"She goes out on the line and says to her viewers, `I love this book, here are the reasons why I love this book, and here's why I want you to read this book.' That's the difference between her club and other clubs," said Paul Bogaards, executive director of publicity at Alfred A. Knopf, which recently had novels picked by the "Today" show (Sandra Cisneros' "Caramelo") and "Good Morning America" (Richard Price's "Samaritan").

News for 5/6/2003

Oprah Sticking Around for Two More Years

LOS ANGELES (Zap2it.com) - Oprah Winfrey has apparently changed her mind about ending her talk show after the 2005-06 season.

The daytime TV titan is working to close a deal that would keep "The Oprah Winfrey Show" on the air through 2007-08. Negotiations are under way with King World, which distributes the show, and a group of large-market stations owned by ABC that carry it, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

CBS-owned stations were planning to make a push for Winfrey's show over the next few years, and may have had some corporate leverage on their side, as they and CBS are both part of Viacom. Money still usually talks louder than synergy, however, and the ABC stations will pay increased license fees to keep "Oprah" on their air.

Winfrey's decision to stay on for an extra two years will send programmers and distributors of syndicated shows back to their schedule grids. Stations and distributors were already looking ahead to a time when they'd have to replace Winfrey's show, which is consistently the highest-rated talk show in syndication.

With Winfrey staying on the air, new strips like "The Wayne Brady Show" and planned talk shows such as one hosted by Ellen DeGeneres probably won't be able to move into the best time periods right away.