Remarkable Receptions

Oprah Winfrey, Film, and African American literature -- ep. by Nicole Dixon

November 17, 2022 Nicole Dixon Season 7 Episode 2
Remarkable Receptions
Oprah Winfrey, Film, and African American literature -- ep. by Nicole Dixon
Show Notes Transcript

A short take on Oprah Winfrey's contributions to film and African American literature. 
Written by Nicole Dixon
Read by Kassandra Timm

After critical acclaim and box office success of the 1985 film, The Color Purple, a then emergent talk-show host and actress, Oprah Winfrey, discovered a new market for herself. She bought the rights to novels with plans to adapt those novels into movies. 

You’re listening to Remarkable Receptions – a podcast about popular and critical responses to African American novels. 

Winfrey founded Harpo Productions in 1986, a year after she appeared in the film The Color Purple, which had been adapted from Alice Walker’s novel of the same name. Harpo is Oprah spelled backward, and the term Harpo is also a nod to Winfrey’s on-screen husband in The Color Purple

Harpo Productions transformed several African American novels into films and television miniseries, including Dorothy West’s The Wedding, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Gloria Naylor The Women of Brewster Place.  

Winfrey purchased the rights to Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved in 1987, the year the book was published. And a little more than a decade later, in 1998, Beloved was released as a film, starring Winfrey among others.    

The film did not have a remarkable theatrical run, and Winfrey reported deep disappointment over its popular reception. However, in 2013, Winfrey said she was pleased with the movie overall because it represented, in her eyes, the essence of the novel. Routinely, Winfrey has weathered obstacles and come back stronger. 

This was the case when Winfrey’s Harpo Productions adapted the 1996 novel Push, by author Sapphire into a film, which was released under the title Precious in 2009. The film received rave reviews and even led to Geoffrey Fletcher becoming the first African American to win an Oscar for a screenplay award. 

Nearly 40 years after appearing in The Color Purple, Winfrey is returning to the project as a producer, alongside Quincy Jones, Steven Spielberg, and Scott Sanders. In December 2023, The Color Purple returns to the screen but this time as a musical.  

With her interests and capabilities as a producer, Oprah Winfrey has greatly influenced the reception of African American novels. 


This episode was written by Nicole Dixon. The episode was edited by Elizabeth Cali and Howard Rambsy II.


This podcast, Remarkable Receptions, is part of the Black Literature Network, a joint project from African American literary studies at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and the History of Black Writing at the University of Kansas. The project was made possible by the generous support of the Mellon Foundation.  For more information, visit