In 2011, at the White House correspondents’ dinner, comedian and talk show host Seth Meyers tore into Donald Trump for considering a run at the US presidency. Meyers, it has been said, hurt Trump’s ego enough to make him prove a point. He decided to tempt fate again this Sunday, as he hosted the Golden Globe awards. He told Oprah Winfrey that she would never be president. After the soaring speech, she gave while receiving the Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement, many may be secretly hoping that Meyers is two-times unlucky.
The reason behind the whispers, however short-lived and unlikely, of an Oprah candidacy, is obvious: In her speech, as in her life, she presents a welcome contrast to the incumbent US president, or men with the arrogance of privilege everywhere. Winfrey, a self-made media mogul, came from poverty. Her speech displayed exactly why she has been arguably the most influential television personality of the 20th century and beyond. Winfrey managed, with practised ease, to weave race, class and gender, through incidents from her own life as well as figures from America’s civil rights movement and Hollywood. She brought in respect for a media under siege, and women brave enough to say to the world, #MeToo. And she held out the promise, more a wish, of a world where they wouldn’t have to.
The “elephants not in the room” — Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump — as Seth Meyers put it, have diminished the public discourse on equality. It is their influence, as much as Oprah’s oratorical prowess, that makes her words resonant in this moment, especially to an audience and industry still reeling from revelations of sexual harassment and assault from some of its most powerful figures. For the world beyond Hollywood, too, her words, perhaps, provide solace — which speaks more of Oprah’s audience than of her.