Oprah Winfrey, an extremely important figure in American society, helped shape American culture and continues to make a lasting impact on our world as a whole. The first black female host of a national television talk show, Oprah produced and starred in ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’. The show, spanning from 1986-2011, aired for 25 seasons. As a media executive, actress, and philanthropist, Oprah is not only known for becoming the first female billionaire, but also for her positive influence on society. Through her show, she used her fun-loving personality, knowledge surrounding business, and rigorous efforts to live a more positive lifestyle. Through these efforts, she became an iconic influence throughout American culture, serving as a humanitarian in her efforts towards equal rights amongst all people, no matter race, sex, ethnicity, or background.
In 1954, Oprah Winfrey was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi. Oprah lived in a household, where she was a victim of sexual abuse. Once she turned 18, she left home to attend Tennessee State University. At college, she started learning about television, film, and radio. After school, she moved to Maryland and hosted a TV show called ‘People Are Talking’. Not long thereafter, she was recruited to work for a television company in Chicago and in 1986, she started ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’. The show generated around $125 million by the end of its first year. The show was played on 212 channels, throughout over 100 different countries, and focused on personal issues that were not commonly publicized at the time, making it unique to anything that was being aired. She focused on the importance of authenticity, through her acts of love and kindness. Oprah consistently explained on her show the importance of staying true to yourself. She stated: “To be authentic is the highest form of praise. You're fulfilling your mission and purpose on earth when you honor the real you”. Since her beginnings, Oprah valued authenticity amongst peoples in a community.
Additionally, Oprah used her show as a platform to promote social reform and advocacy for her most beloved organizations and societal groups. For example, she encouraged her viewers to contact senators in support of the Protect Our Children Act. Furthermore, she personally testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of this act. Ultimately, the act was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993, and was also named the ‘Oprah Bill’. She also publicized her support for charities and organizations such as the Angel Network, the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, and the Oprah Winfrey Operating Foundation. Through these organizations, she gives grants to non-profit organizations around the world. Additionally, many of these organizations promote the growth of women and children around the world by enhancing their opportunities. Through charitable acts such as these, she distinguishes herself as a truly altruistic role model.
Oprah Winfrey became an American icon, winning awards and receiving recognition for her service from some of the largest organizations in the country. In particular, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture recently shared an exhibit highlighting Oprah’s positive impact on American society. This exhibit is called ‘Watching Oprah: The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture’. The exhibit provides background on Oprah’s upbringing, her path towards becoming a global figure, and the degree to which Oprah continues to influence the nation. Through this exhibit, the things presented were “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. One part of the exhibit focused on her show, the highest-rated show for 25 years straight, and how that show pushed boundaries around taboo topics. Another section of the exhibit concentrated on her position as an influencer, specifically in regards to women’s rights and issues. The last part of the exhibit showed her involvement with different organizations and movements, specifically in the Civil Rights Movement, where she worked tirelessly to support African American people’s rights. This exhibit illuminates the efforts and accomplishments of Oprah throughout her lifetime in America and her undeniable influence on the US as a whole.
Oprah clearly impacted and continues to influence America today. Oprah breaks barriers through her work, striving to level the playing field for all people, regardless of background, race, or sex. From rags to riches, Oprah represents the American Dream. In fact, she helped create the American Dream, revealing to the world that authenticity and hard work helps people thrive in this country.
- “Winfrey, Oprah”. Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, Jan. 2018, p.1.
- Sykes, Tanisha A. “Oprah Winfrey: America’s Ultimate Brand”. Black Enterprise, vol. 35, no. 12, July 2005, p.28.
- Winfrey, Oprah, and Janet Lowe. “Oprah Winfrey Speaks : Insight from the World’s Most Influential Voice”. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. [US], 1998.
- “What Oprah Knows for Sure About Authenticity”; www.oprah.com.
- “Oprah Winfrey Is So Iconic Her Influence on American Culture Is Now a Museum Exhibition”. Yahoo! Finance, Yahoo!, 5 June 2018.
- Saner, Emine. “Oprah Winfrey: From Poverty to America's First Black Billionaire ... to #Oprah2020?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 12 Jan. 2018.