- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Oprah Winfrey is coming to Washington — but she’s already at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture will open a special display on the life and work of Ms. Winfrey, especially “the cultural phenomenon that was ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show,’” in the words of museum director Lonnie G. Bunch III.

Oprah’s coming some time before the exhibit opens,” Mr. Bunch told reporters Wednesday during a press preview of the exhibit, which opens Friday.

Just down the hall from the museum’s Oprah Winfrey Theater lies an entryway titled “Special Exhibit.” A sign proclaims “Watching Oprah: The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture.”

Oprah artifacts are presented in three sections:

“America Shapes Oprah” includes items that the curators say influenced her in her formative years, like a March on Washington pennant and an original Maya Angelou journal.

“The Oprah Winfrey Show” focuses on genuine artifacts, clothing and video clips from her daytime TV talk show, which was broadcast nationally from Chicago for 25 seasons, from 1986 to 2011.

“Oprah Shapes America” consists of displays from movies she produced and starred in, and her philanthropic ventures.

Inside the exhibit’s twisting corridors, display pieces range from idea boards the producers used to plan the talk show to the shoes Ms. Winfrey wore during her first appearance on “The Tonight Show” in 1985. At various turns, television screens show video clips on repeat, including one that loops her iconic “You get a car! You get a car! Everybody gets a car!” along with clips of other giveaways. Behind a mock-up of the “Dr. Phil” set, complete with two leather seats, a projector replays a clip of Ms. Winfrey and Phil McGraw conversing.

Some of the clips showcase heated arguments within the audience over issues such as abortion.

“I think what Oprah has done is created an era of possibility that says it is okay to wrestle with things that divide us,” Mr. Bunch said. “If Oprah raises an issue, we listen. We may not always agree, but at least we’ll wrestle with it and think about it carefully.”

One array of odd objects includes a Rubik’s cube used by actor Will Smith, a hairpiece from Lady Gaga, a pair of Air Jordan shoes and a poncho. The museum calls them “original artifacts.”

Near the exhibit’s center, the walls open to reveal enormous set pieces from Ms. Winfrey’s Harpo Studios: a trio of red audience chairs (tissue boxes placed underneath), a clunky white camera that once filmed the show, and what looks to be the original Harpo Studios sign.

Included in the Harpo Studios display is the desk where Ms. Winfrey executive-produced the show, as well as a lineup of Emmys. (She won 18 Daytime Emmys during her talk-show reign.)

“Knowing that [Harpo Studios] was going to be demolished, we were really conscientious about making sure we got there to see what was available,” said Rhea L. Combs, the exhibit’s co-curator.

Dozens of articles of clothing from Ms. Winfrey’s actual wardrobe line the walls: the suit she wore during the “You get a car!” episode, a costume from “The Color Purple,” the size 10 Calvin Klein jeans she rocked in one episode to showcase her weight loss. Red dresses and pantsuits rest on mannequins.

Oprah was kind enough to let us go into her closets and pull some of this out,” Mr. Bunch said.

The displayed garments are stylish, colorful and appear expensive, but in her youth Ms. Winfrey wore potato sacks. She was born dirt poor to a single teen mom in segregated, rural Mississippi, and endured sexual abuse from the time she was 9 years old.

When she was 14, she ran away to live with her dad, which “changed the course of my life He saved me. He simply knew what he wanted and expected. He would take nothing less,” Ms. Winfrey recalled about the structure her father provided.

Now, she is a media mogul and the nation’s first black female billionaire.

“[I]n some way, she’s replaced Walter Kronkite as one of the most trusted people in television,” Mr. Bunch said.

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