“Your need to take Oprah down is bizarre,” Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone wrote yesterday in response to my “Oprah Facing Reality” piece. It’s not a takedown thing, I replied. I was simply noting the Grand Canyon-sized gulf between a serious award-quality performance like Lupita N’yongo‘s in 12 Years A Slave and a highly respectable performance like Oprah Winfrey‘s in The Butler. I was simply saying (with no neurotic agenda of any kind) that you can’t compare the two — they don’t exist in the same realm.
“Both women give great performances,” Stone wrote. Wells response: Oprah gives a very fine performance in The Butler, but Stone isn’t showing respect for the word “great.” We all need to apply exactitude and proportion in our use of the English language or it just becomes Swahili. “One [performance] happens to be in a film [that] all of the critics and festival goers like so far,” Stone explains. “But that doesn’t mean you can draw such conclusions as this early on. There will be many names bandied about all season long. And it’s really, really early.” Wells response: I’m not sure but I think what Sasha really meant to say was, “It’s September, for God’s sake.”
Once more with feeling (and I write these words knowing that I stand to lose thousands in Weinstein Co, ad revenue for doing so): Oprah’s Butler performance has conviction and spirit and she has a couple of standout scenes, but her performance isn’t that good. It’s fine and commendable but it certainly doesn’t begin to be in the same realm as Lupita Nyongo‘s. You can’t talk about their respective performances in the same breath. Oprah is a very powerful woman, rich and well-known and liked/beloved by millions, but acting-wise she’s a dilletante who drops into a role every six years or so. She’s talented, mind. She has a certain spunk and brio that comes through. But her fame and reputation prevent her from submerging into the role of a frustrated, underappreciated wife of a butler — her celebrity overwhelms the modest nature of the part. And 95% of the reason there has been nomination talk on her behalf is about the basic human instinct to show obeisance before power.
The media is applauding Oprah on cue like trained monkeys — they are kowtowing to her celebrated wealth and influence. If she was just a working actress of modest or medium means there would be next-to-no chatter about her Butler performance. Am I the only honest man in the room who has the cojones to say that?
Wells to Weinstein Co. marketers: Please don’t punish me monetarily for posting these words. I respect Oprah Winfrey and at no time have I unfairly or harshly or prejudicially put down her performance in The Butler. I’m simply saying what I believe to be true, which is that she’s the recipient of nomination talk primarily because she’s a famous and influential billionaire. I’m not doing a Lincoln or an Eddie Murphy on her. Please don’t chop me off at the ankles because I am the only honest columnist in the room. I am Diogenes.