Watching Oprah: The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture is the story of Oprah Winfrey and her 25-year daytime talk show, as a lens to explore contemporary American history and culture, especially issues of power, gender and the media. Winfrey came of age during the Civil Rights Movement and the women’s liberation movement, inspiring her to challenge the status quo in her own life.

“It was December 27, 1964. I was 10 years old when I tuned in to watch The Ed Sullivan Show…. It was a moment that changed my life. When I saw The Supremes on TV that night, it was magical to me because I’d never seen black women on television… who conveyed such glamour and such grace…. And for years, I wanted to be like Diana Ross, or just somebody supreme.” — Oprah Winfrey

Television brought to the forefront issues around race in profound and powerful ways. For decades, African Americans were relegated to playing stereotypical characters, if on TV at all. However, the fight for equality eventually created new opportunities for African American in front of the Camera. Winfrey would join the lineage of African American women, to include Della Reese, Jayne Kennedy, and Hazel Scott, who pioneered as television hosts and news anchors.

In the exhibition’s three sections, visitors will learn about the young girl from Kosciusko, Mississippi, who would grow into a cultural icon watched by millions around the world. Watching Oprah features video clips on a range of subjects, interactive interviews with Winfrey, costumes from her films, to include Beloved (1998) and The Color Purple (1998) and artifacts from Harpo Studios in Chicago, home of The Oprah Winfrey Show for over two decades.

Oprah Winfrey reacts to seeing her exhibition for the first time with Founding Director Lonnie G. Bunch III

CBS This Morning

“This exhibition examines the power of television. Just as Oprah Winfrey watched TV coverage of the civil rights movement and was shaped by the era in which she was born and raised, she has gone on to have a profound effect on how Americans view themselves and each other in the tumultuous decades that followed. She has a place in the museum with a long line of women who did extraordinary things in their time—Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Maya Angelou—women who worked to redeem the soul of America.” — Lonnie G. Bunch III

Watching Oprah (June 2018-June 2019) is located in the museum’s Special Exhibitions gallery, a 4,300-square-foot exhibition space located on the concourse level near the elevator that takes visitors to the first level of the History Galleries. Join the online conversation using #WatchingOprah and explore the exhibition online.

The exhibition is supported by MGM Resorts International, Target, Bank of America, and FedEx Corporation.

Founding Director Lonnie G. Bunch III and Oprah Winfrey, Credit: Earl Gibson III
Credit: Earl Gibson III
Co-Curator Kathleen Kendrick, Oprah Winfrey, and Co-Curator Dr. Rhea L. Combs, Credit: Earl Gibson III
Ava DuVernay, Oprah Winfrey, and Gayle King, Credit: Earl Gibson III
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