Earlier this year Colorlines.com pointed out that Oprah Winfrey’s new cable-television network OWN wasn’t very inclusive with people of color. The network has been on-air for a month now, and at this point the observation has gone mainstream. Newsweek Magazine just published a story titled “Is Oprah’s Network Too White?”
Yes, Oprah’s OWN network is very white. Most of the high-profile programs are lead by white people: Dr. Phil McGraw, Suze Orman, Peter Walsh, Cristina Ferrare, Dr. Laura Berman, Randall Sullivan, Dr. Indre Viskontas, along with shows starring Shania Twain, Rosie O’Donnell, and Sarah Ferguson, scheduled to debut later this year.
Oprah’s best friend Gayle King, who is black, has her own morning daily show, and later this year Asian-American investigative journalist Lisa Ling will have a news magazine show.
“It’s so upsetting to see what’s on TV today and to see the way most shows still depict blacks, and particularly black women, in a negative light,” Mora Johns, a Chicago high-school teacher, told Newsweek. “So I do look to OWN for more of a balance to show who we really are. I hope that’s coming.”
But not everyone is surprised.
“Oprah is the network’s diversity,” says Todd Boyd, a professor at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. “And that’s been the way she’s operated from the beginning of her career, so I’m not sure why there is even a question about more diversity. That’s really not who she is or who she ever was.”
Salim Akil, executive producer of “The Game”, thinks we just need to move on. “If Oprah was purposely denying anyone the opportunity to present themselves to her for employment, then that’s a problem. But if she’s doing her thing the best way she knows how, then we should just applaud her and keep moving.”
But Oprah has articulated countless times how hard it is for black women to get on television, and because of this awareness many people expected more from her.
At this point, it wouldn’t hurt to at least try. OWN averaged 1.1 million viewers in primetime in its first week, but that number was down to 287,000 last week.