Oprah Winfrey in Denmark / Bill Ebbesen / Wikimedia Commons
“I’m gonna get it, you’re going to get it, we’re all gonna get it.”
That was Oprah Winfrey, addressing a crowd of sexual abuse survivors. She, the crowd, and the men on stage were in for it. In the coming days and weeks, they would receive a storm of unabashed vitriol. In comment sections the world over, Oprah would be called an opportunistic bitch, a hypocrite, and the N-word.
Having been in the business for decades, she knew all that. Her nose was sharp – she could smell hatred a long way off. Nevertheless, she persisted.
Like a lot of people across the country (and the globe), my partner and I recently buried an entire day watching all four hours of Dan Reed’s Leaving Neverland. We followed it up with Oprah’s hour-long special After Neverland. It was a rainy Saturday.
We came away from this binge-session with our love of Michael Jackson irreparably severed. For legal reasons, I must use words like alleged and opinion, but allow me to make my position clear: I believe the survivors. Their stories are consistent, five of them have come forward, and there are mountains of corroborating evidence. It is not an opinion I always had, but when new information comes to light, you have the right to change your mind. Oprah Winfrey, who interviewed Jackson in 1993 (long before the first allegation came to light), has that same right.
I’m sure Winfrey wrestles with the fact she interviewed this man. Even more so, that she interviewed him in the very ranch where much of the abuse is alleged to have occurred. But to use this 1993 interview to call her a hypocrite is woefully misinformed.
As stated in the opening minutes of After Neverland, in her 25 years hosting The Oprah Winfrey Show, Winfrey taped 217 episodes on sexual abuse. Allow me to repeat, for the record: two hundred and seventeen episodes. There is no-one in the mainstream landscape currently doing that mahi. There is certainly no one with her global reach.
The issue of sexual abuse sits heavily on Winfrey’s heart thanks to brutal personal experience. But she has used that unimaginable horror to do unimaginable good in the world.
In After Neverland Winfrey praises Reed for illustrating in four hours what she tried to explain in 217. Sexual abuse, she says, is an incorrect and misleading term. It is also sexual seduction. Victims are usually groomed to love and trust their abuser. Usually, victims don’t realise they are being abused. Often, the repercussions of the abuse become clearer later in life.
With her daytime talk show, Oprah Winfrey reached into the darkest, hidden corners of the world and pulled people into the light. In a landmark 2010 episode, Winfrey filled her audience with 200 male survivors of sexual abuse. Each man held a picture of himself at the age he was when his alleged abuse began. I was seven reads one. I was twelve reads another.
For one survivor, Jordan Masciangelo, being in that audience was transformative. “I was no longer part of what I believed was a marginalized community of male survivors. I was now part of this huge worldwide brotherhood […] It really became a huge stepping stone in my recovery.”
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