Is Oprah's Network Too White?

By Samuels, Allison | Newsweek, February 7, 2011 | Go to article overview

Is Oprah's Network Too White?


Samuels, Allison, Newsweek


Byline: Allison Samuels; With Joshua Alston

Farah J. Griffin's 82-year-old mother, Wilhelmenia, hasn't missed an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show since it debuted nearly 20 years ago. So when Winfrey's 24-hour Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) debuted on Jan. 1, Griffin upgraded her mother's cable package so she could watch from her Philadelphia home. Only now, Griffin wants more for her money. "I know it's still early in the process," says Griffin, a professor of English and African-American studies at Columbia University. "That said, I really want to see more variation. I'm not saying she should just focus on black shows or black programming. But I'd like it to have shows that are interesting to women of all ages, backgrounds, and races, not just white women."

Does Oprah's network need more diversity? Many African-American women seem to think so, including Black Entertainment cofounder Sheila Johnson, who says that Winfrey should "open her circle a bit more," and blogs such as Hello Beautiful and Clutch, which have complained bitterly about the absence of black faces and voices on the fledging network. Winfrey's friend Gayle King, who is African-American, hosts a talk show, as does Lisa Ling, an Asian-American, and Dr. Mehmet Oz, a Turkish-American. Oprah's own show, Master Class, has also featured Jay-Z and Condoleezza Rice. But most of the high-profile programs are lead by white people: Dr. Phil McGraw, Suze Orman, Peter Walsh, Cristina Ferrare, Dr. Laura Berman, Randall Sullivan, Dr. Indre Viskontas, along with shows starring Shania Twain, Rosie O'Donnell, and Sarah Ferguson, scheduled to debut later this year. What gives? "Oprah is the network's diversity," says Todd Boyd, a professor at USC's School of Cinematic Arts. "And that's been the way she's operated from the beginning of her career, so I'm not sure why there is even a question about more diversity. …

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