What Oprah Winfrey Learned From a Very Public Failure
In a new interview in the September issue of Vogue, billionaire and business mogul Oprah Winfrey opened up about confronting a very public failure and how the experience has colored her career ever since.
In the fall of 1998, Winfrey starred in the film adaptation of Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved. It tanked at the box office.
Winfrey recalled getting news of the movie’s underwhelming opening day.
“[T]hey said, ‘It’s over. You got beat by Chucky.’ And I said, ‘Who’s Chucky? What do you mean it’s over? It’s just Saturday morning!’” she said.
Despite the spectacular popularity of her talk show at the same time, Winfrey said the movie’s failure triggered her “long plunge into food and depression.” Winfrey languished in that low point for six weeks, at times buying up blocks of Beloved tickets at local movie theaters in an attempt to pad the film’s box office figures.
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But she eventually recovered from the disappointment and took with her a life lesson:
“It taught me to never again—never again, ever—put all of your hopes, expectations, eggs in the basket of box office. Do the work as an offering, and then whatever happens, happens.”
Winfrey has certainly diversified her career since then. The Vogue article, titled “Oprah Winfrey Is On a Roll (Again),” touches on her latest projects. She’s starring in the Ava DuVerney-directed A Wrinkle in Time, which is slated for a March release. And she’s bolstering the offerings on her OWN TV network by partnering with people like screenwriter and producer Mara Brock Akil (best known for creating Girlfriends and Being Mary Jane) and brokering a first-look deal for television with film producer Will Packer and director DuVernay. She also told Vogue about a recent meeting with Moonlight co-writers Michael B. Jordan and Tarell Alvin McCraney.
“I’m excited because I’m building my storytelling tribe,” she said.
Not mentioned in the Vogue article is Winfrey’s new venture with Kraft to sell a line of health-conscious refrigerated food, called O, That’s Good! that will appear in grocery stores by the end of September. Winfrey, worth an estimated $3.1 billion, also sits on the board of Weight Watchers (WTW); she took a $43 million stake in the company two years ago. Memberships have soared during her tenure, thanks in part to an ad in which Winfrey boasted about eating bread every day and still dropping pounds. Her stake grew to $294 million in May.
Winfrey is also returning to broadcast television this fall as a contributor to CBS’s 60 Minutes, where she’ll host segments aimed at bridging America’s political and cultural divide. Executive producer Jeffrey Fager told Vogue there’s a temptation to have Winfrey conduct the big-ticket interviews she’s known for, but “for us it’s about resisting that” and instead “[shedding] some light on” Americans’ differences.
Nevertheless, Winfrey shared what she’d learned from interviewing an estimated 37,000 people during the 25-year run of The Oprah Winfrey Show: “There’s not a human being alive who doesn’t want—in any conversation, encounter, experience with another human being—to feel like they matter.”