I’ve just sent the following to a few of my award-season columnist colleagues, to wit: “We all know that Oprah Winfrey‘s performance in The Butler (i.e., as Forrest Whitaker‘s loyal if occasionally frustrated wife) is on almost everyone’s preliminary short list for Best Supporting Actress right now. Two days ago The Daily Beast‘s Kevin Fallon wrote that “the media mogul is an early Oscar frontrunner…not only could she win, she really should.” Now, be honest. If Winfrey’s performance had been given by, say, Queen Latifah or Octavia Spencer — and I mean exactly the same performance with the same finessing, same quality, same dramatic impact — what are the odds that you guys would be jumping up and down and calling either performance an automatic Best Supporting Actress contender?
“Nobody is disputing that Oprah delivers a decent…okay, a commendable performance. A good one. Respectable. She handles it nicely. If she gets nominated at the end of the day, fine. It won’t be a calamity. But you know as well as I do that if Spencer or Latifah or some slightly lesser actress were playing the same part and delivering on the same level that there wouldn’t be half of the clamor and the hoopla we’re hearing now.
“Oprah is being talked up as a Best Supporting Actress nominee mainly because she’s a billionaire and a big media name and everyone wants to kowtow to power. On top of which Butler screenwriter Danny Strong wrote a good part for Winfrey but he didn’t write a really great one. Her performance doesn’t have any million dollar “wow” moments. She doesn’t have a “Beatrice Straight in Network” moment. All she has is ‘I’ll bet you wish I could speak French like Jackaaaayyy“…and that’s more or less it.
“This is not the beginning of a Hollywood Elsewhere takedown campaign. Winfrey is fine in The Butler. It’s a good performance. I’m just saying the talk so far is primarily a tribute to Oprah’s political power.”