I feel the need to comment on the latest backlash concerning Oprah’s recent airing of a special episode about India, in India – on Oprah’s Next Chapter – some of which are now calling a ‘mocumentary.’ And I can’t help but feel that, at least to some extent, there appears to be a target on the back of the once sweetheart of American media. Maybe it’s because she is single handedly trying to do what only conglomerate media companies have done with difficulty – starting a brand new network from ground zero – which if ever successful, will leave some network executives scratching their heads. One should also consider that she moved from the position of attracting large audiences to network television (The Oprah Winfrey Show remained the number one talk show for 24 consecutive seasons reaching more than 40 million viewers a week in the United States, and licensed to 150 countries internationally) to now competing against the same networks for advertising dollars.
But let’s start with the recent backlash: A few India reporters are being interviewed on their views of the India piece by other media companies – and the reporting I’ve been privy to appears for the most part, to be one sided. We watched the special episode in question and found it to be honest – showing both sides of India – the rich and beautiful culture as well as the undeniable conditions of poverty. I don’t believe this was meant to be an official documentary of India – but an honest portrayal of Oprah’s observances during her time there. Oprah’s strength has always been her honest portrayal of what she sees and understands.
Dainik Bhaskar a newspaper in India reviewed the India special of Oprah’s Next Chapter, with the headline, “Snobbish Oprah Mocks India.” Within the article it reads, “In a typical American snooty style, the talk show queen tried to portray a superficial ‘sob story’. Oprah was anything but a good guest when she went around the small room interrogating the family members about their ‘poor’ living style and ‘miserly’ living.”
I watched when Oprah visited the home of the beautiful family living in the slums of Mumbai. Her response to what she witnessed was real. No acting. No sugar coating. And though yes, she asked questions of their poverty (they were completely aware of their poverty status), she was very loving toward the family and took a special liking to the children – appearing genuinely concerned with what they wanted to do for school and what their future dreams were.
In one instance on NPR’s, The Takeaway, the media focus moved from the interviews with India reporters to highlighting all the other ‘bad decisions’ of Oprah’s past – how she was duped into believing and then recommending the work of author James Frey in A Million Little Pieces (2003); how the new OWN Network was failing because she was changing the formula of who she was. None of which had anything to do with the topic at hand.
When someone embarks on a project so large, so daunting, like the building of a network – mistakes will be made. They almost have to. I challenge Oprah’s critics to spend 5 minutes in her shoes without crumbling. With so much cover-up happening in today’s world – it’s time to stop apologizing for what we truly see. I challenge the media makers and journalists around the world to continue to tell it as it is. Praise the accomplishments – showcase the good, but the tragic stories of poverty and injustices of the world will not change until we are willing to tell the truth. And for this – Oprah has my respect.
Make your mistakes Oprah. At least you have the courage to – for which no one can fault you. But when you have learned all the lessons of a network – facing the music of naysayers and still pressing on, smile brightly as you achieve all that you set out to do in fulfilling your dream of teaching, enlightening and inspiring the world through media.
(Above) Oprah Explores the Slums of Mumbai and Shares Her Reflections Oprah says she now knows what’s really important after visiting the Hegde family’s 10-foot-by-10-foot home in Mumbai, India. Watch as Oprah tours the family’s bathing area, where 60 neighbors share four toilets and a small room for washing. Plus, find out why Oprah says this experience changed her forever.