The black-clad audience at this year’s Golden Globes erupted into applause during Oprah Winfrey’s acceptance speech of her Cecil B. DeMille Award, promptly sparking rumours that she had her eye on a prize of a very different nature – the presidency.
While she denies harbouring these particular political ambitions, a look back at her incredible career shows that for this lady, anything is possible. Eithne Shortall joined Kay Sheehy on Arena to profile her rise from rags (more specifically, potato sacks) to riches.
"I’m sure there have been attempts to turn her life into a film because it is the stuff of movies. From being born into such abject poverty that at the age of… about 4 or 5, they went to live with her grandmother who was incredibly poor too, and she used to wear dresses made of potato sacks – a pinnacle of poverty. From that to being the richest self-made woman in America is some leap."
Oprah was born to an unmarried teenage mother who worked hard as a cleaner. She suffered sexual abuse at the hands of family members and a family friend. Oprah gave birth to a son at the age of 14 but he died shortly afterwards. Even one of these traumatic life events at such an early age might knock a person for life, but not Oprah. Despite all obstacles, she excelled at school, winning a scholarship to a particularly good high school and another one for a college education. Life had other plans for Oprah though, and she fell into radio and the television presenting instead, thus beginning a meteoric rise through the ranks. A by-product of her success is her acclaimed book club. Eithne says, "as soon as she would name a book, the publishers would need to at least put another half a million into print because they knew it was going to be on top of the bestsellers list."
Then there are the movies. She kicked off that part of her career with a bang and an Oscar nomination for The Color Purple, which she went on to produce on Broadway.
"She’s effectively a media mogul and she’s more prominent probably behind the screen. She starred in Selma and The Butler and it is kind of interesting that they’re her recent films… They’re campaigning films. They’re about black rights, civil rights, they make a political point… It would look from the things that she now chooses to do that she wants to do things that have a political message and that are going to do some good beyond the film."
When Oprah pledged her support for Barack Obama publicly, it’s estimated that she brought in between 600,000 and 1.6 million votes for him. While she has not disclosed any intentions of following in his footsteps, sources close to Winfrey have suggested that a run for the White House in 2020 remains a possibility.