I am aware that I am the last guy you want to turn to for any kind of objective review about Oprah. I mean, come on, I am anything but objective. In life, you are blessed if you have even a short list of true friends, and if you do, you love and support them, period. I feel that way about Oprah, not just because of everything she has done for my family and me, which is admittedly beyond generous, but it goes deeper than that.
Over the 17 years I have come to know her, I mean really know her, I have seen who she is, in good times and in bad (yes, even Oprah has tough times, just like everyone else). I have seen how she behaves when the world is not watching, how she treats people who don't even know it's her doing the treating (yes, she's that thoughtful). I have seen her heart and her mind, her conduct, her intent, and her actions. So, yeah, I confess I have a built-in core bias that is unwavering. I see her through a filter of love and respect that will never change. Which is why, when it comes to Oprah or her projects, you don't want to listen to me — until now.
I did something with Oprah last night you do need to hear about from me.
This past Saturday night, Robin and I went to Santa Barbara for a private screening of the soon-to-be released movie "Selma." An Oprah project. She is in it and she is one of the executive producers, so ordinarily, this would be one of those "don't listen to me" moments. But this is different. This movie is so not about Oprah. This movie is about you. It is about you, and it is about me, and you absolutely must see it. I don't care if you have to take off work to get to the theater after it opens on Christmas Day!
"Selma" is about the very soul of America in 1965 and, in an eerie twist of timing, it is about the very soul of America right now, this minute. I believe it is one of those iconic movies that will become an instant classic; it will impact how you think and feel — and hopefully how you and I behave — about human dignity, human rights and your personal values and responsibilities for the rest of our lives. Despite the subject matter, it is not about politics, guilt, anger, violence or bitterness. It is about courage, inspiration and commitment.
Take a minute to look at the trailer so what I am saying will have a better context. Watch it here.
I watched Robin watch this movie in the dark of the historic Arlington Theatre and saw visible waves of pain cross her face when "Bloody Sunday" and other indignities were depicted as they played out in Selma, Alabama. I saw the joy and pride in her face as she stood and cheered at other moments that portrayed hard-earned victories. As for me, I was spellbound emotionally and intellectually. I was all in from the minute I saw Oprah's character, Annie Lee Cooper, filling out a form with such great care, a form I knew was going in the trash. It was heartbreaking.
Afterward, as part of the weekend event called "The Legends Who Paved the Way," we attended an amazing celebratory dinner joined by many of the heroes portrayed in the movie, along with other legends who found the courage to change and mature this country.
Dinner conversation was very interesting, to say the least. David and Yolanda Foster, Magic and Cookie Johnson, and Nancy O'Dell and her husband, Keith, were at our table, and we all were drawn to discussing the amazing — perhaps divine — timeliness of this movie, given what is playing out on the streets of cities across America at this very moment. It makes you ask: "How much progress have we really made or at least held on to?" I do think progress has been made but obviously, much more work remains to be done.
This movie was so well done, it transported me back in time to that tension-filled time in our country. I was in high school in Kansas City, where racial tensions over segregation ran very high. I remember it well. I watched the happenings in Selma on television along with 70 million other Americans and more around the world. But we now have an entire generation who did not live through it and for whom this movie will be a huge, educational, game-changing wake-up call.
A major contrast to modern-day events did impact me though. Martin Luther King and his demonstrators were highly organized and extremely disciplined, as opposed to some of what we have seen in more recent times. Back then, it seems the commitment to a non-violent philosophy, even to the point of undergoing training on how to deal with provocation without reaction, kept the focus on the objective. These men and women did not attack and certainly did not turn to the destructive acts of burning, looting and assaulting. They did not permit or tolerate a thuggish few to use such an important issue as an excuse to commit crimes and discredit the movement important to so many. I also saw what felt, at least to me, like an "impatience" on the part of authorities recently that, while clearly dramatically more restrained than in 1965, just had a troublesome feel to it.
We also discussed a question that continues to haunt me even as I type this: Would I have had the courage to walk that bridge in Selma in 1965? Walk unarmed, unprotected, directly into the teeth of an army of angry bigots held to absolutely no account, prepared to bash my head in with a baseball bat, wrapped in barbed wire? Would I have been OK doing so with my wife walking right by my side to get her head bashed in? How about you? Would you take that walk for what you believed? I have spent the day with an uneasiness of mind. Perhaps it is because I don't know the answer to the question. Or maybe it's because I do.
Oprah and her amazing cast and team have given us a gift in "Selma." She just continues to make a life-changing difference for so many. Thanks girl! (Again.)
OK, now you can all go back to not listening to me when I weigh in about Oprah, because like I said, I'm just not objective.