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#BackChannel: Oprah For President, Jay-Z’s ‘Family Feud,’ And Embodying ‘Young, Gifted And Black’

Donald Trump just celebrated his first year in office, and the burning question in some circles is: should Oprah Winfrey take his place? The buzz around #Winfrey2020 started after she gave a rousing speech at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards.


We're at a moment where we have accepted that the leaders of our government are brands, and it's not just about Trump.- Mark Anthony Neal

With the next awards show just around the corner, people are noticing the large number of Grammy nominations for women, people of color, and hip-hop artists. And Emmy-award winning writer Lena Waithe just debuted a new drama series about the South Side of Chicago called “The Chi.” 

Meanwhile two recently-released documentaries tell the stories of powerful women who sparked social change: “The Rape Of Recy Taylor,”directed by Nancy Buirski, documents how a 24-year-old sharecropper who was gang raped risked her life to report her assault and seek justice.“Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart,” from director Tracy Heather Strain, profiles the young playwright who coined the phrase “young, gifted and black.”  And communities mourn the death of activist Erica Garner, who came to public attention for her campaign against police brutality after her father Eric Garner died at the hands of a New York police officer. 

Host Frank Stasio talks about these topics with Natalie Bullock Brown, professor of film and broadcast media at St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh, and Mark Anthony Neal, chair of the department of African and African American studies at Duke University in Durham.

Interview Highlights:

Natalie Bullock Brown on Oprah's Golden Globes speech: I mean honestly the first time I heard it it brought tears to my eyes, because she has a presence and she has a way of really putting her finger on like, you know, what needs to be said and what people need to hear in the moment … But I did not take it as this is the beginning of Oprah’s campaign to be president. And quite honestly I don’t want her to run for president. I think she would be an amazing president actually, but I don’t want to see her go through what Hillary Clinton went through. And Oprah is black, so Oprah’s going to go through even more. She’s gonna be skewered in ways that even Hillary wasn’t skewered … Even on top of that, I just feel like we don’t need to keep walking down this cult of celebrity path.

I think what inspires me about Erica Garner is that in spite of that reluctance [...] She became a national spokesperson for her father. She became his voice in the absence of that voice. - Natalie Bullock Brown

Mark Anthony Neal on the death of Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner who died at the hands of the New York Police:

Erica Garner carried the trauma of her father’s death on and in her body until it killed her. And part of what she was carrying was trying to make sure that his death wasn’t simply another spectacle in this ongoing spectacle of the violence of race. Anti-black violence if you will. What I find was remarkable in that moment after her death were the folks who were close to her and around her and who were trying to protect her legacy and her father’s legacy. Their unwillingness to allow her death to become a spectacle. Hence the demands that when stories were written that they would be written by black journalists or journalists of color who had some sort of sensitivity to her father’s story and the trauma that she carried in trying to tell her story. 

View the trailer below for "Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart":

On the new documentary “Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart”:

Mark Anthony Neal: The documentary is so important in this period of time because Lorraine Hansberry is one of those folks who get[s] forgotten in the larger narrative. One, because we don't think about drama and stage the way we did 50 years ago when there was no cable television and there was no internet and black playwrights were significant contributors to our sense of what the black experience is … But that story [is a] quintessential story about the come up. Trying to get from the working class to the middle class and retain your dignity … It is one of the most compelling stories ever told by an African-American thinker.

Natalie Bullock Brown: You know, she was really ahead of her time in terms of the vision that she had for what was possible. And I can’t help but wonder [about[ just dealing with having to negotiate this world where she is young, gifted and black, and that is not valued. It’s not recognized. But on top of that she’s queer but in a heterosexual marriage. All these things that she's grappling with. I wonder if that also in its own way didn’t, you know, become toxic in her body to the point where [she] dies of cancer at 34. The burden of just being so brilliant and having all of these ideas about what’s possible and trying to pursue them, and at the same time not being stymied in all kinds of different ways had to be difficult.


Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.