Oprah Winfrey: The US Media Mogul

Painted by Migdad Eldikhery

Oprah Winfrey made headlines this week after her explosive interview with Prince Harry and Meghan that reverberated across the world and raised claims of racism and callousness toward a woman struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Of course, this is not the first groundbreaking interview that Oprah has presented to the world – her previous subjects have included the former US president Donald Trump long before he took office, Michael Jackson, The Obamas and Whitney Houston among others.

Winfrey was born in 1954 in a poor rural Mississippi household where she was subjected to many sexual abuses by her relatives and by her mother's friends. After several years she moved to live with her father in Nashville, where he worked as a barber and a freelance businessman.

She joined Tennessee State University and started working as a radio and television broadcaster in Nashville at a young age.

In 1976, 19-year-old Oprah moved to Baltimore, Maryland, and presented the talk show, The People are Talking. It was a great hit and remained so for eight years in a row. In a matter of months, thanks to her quiet, close-hearted style, Winfrey garnered an additional 100,000 followers, pushing her show from the last place to the top in the overall ranking.

This success carried her to greater national fame and for participation in Steven Speiberg's 1985 film The Color Purple, for which she was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Winfrey launched her own talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, to be a nationwide program with its broadcast on 125 channels and followed by 10 million viewers.

Shortly after, Winfrey acquired ownership of the show from ABC, re-planning and equipping it under the direction of its new production company, Harpo (the name of the company represents the reverse order of the letters of the word Oprah) and thus began to make more money by selling the program to TV channels.

In 1994, talk shows began to turn towards ludicrousness and standards slipped dramatically and rapidly, but Winfrey stuck to her style, ensuring that her program would not become a mere magazine to display photo reports.

Although she expected failure at first, she did gain the respect of her followers and increased in popularity rapidly, as the series produced by her company Harpo won advanced ranks in the classification of short series such as The Women of Brewster Palace, in which she played the title role, and she also signed several film contracts with Disney such as Beloved (1998) based on Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

Winfrey has made a significant contribution to the publishing world by launching the Oprah’s Book project, which has propelled many obscure writers to high places on the best-selling writers’ list. 

In 2015, Winfrey announced that her Harpo's Chicago studios would be closed in order to complete the merger with her new company and move to OWN's headquarters in Los Angeles.

Winfrey was then acting in Greenleaf, her first scripted television work, as it premiered on The OWN TV network in June 2016.

In the same year, Forbes announced that Oprah Winfrey was the richest African-American woman in the twentieth century and the only black American billionaire for three consecutive years.

Winfrey is also a child rights activist, and in 1994 US President Clinton signed a bill that Winfrey had proposed to Congress, aiming to create a national database that includes all those convicted of assault or child abuse.

She also created The Family For Better Lives Foundation and donated to her alumnus, Tennessee State University. In September 2002, she was named the first recipient of the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Life magazine, meanwhile, considered her the most influential woman among the girls of her generation and in 2005 Business Week magazine named her the greatest philanthropist in American history. Her company, Angel Network, has committed nearly $ 51 million to charitable work, including education for girls in South Africa and first aid for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.