Yes, it might be a bit early to riff on
"She's an overpowering presence in our culture. You can't pretend otherwise," film critic Leonard Maltin says. "But that's what makes her work in 'The Butler' impressive. She succeeds in making you forget that she's Oprah Winfrey so you can accept and embrace the character she's playing."
That character, Gloria Gaines, is the conflicted, proud wife of Cecil Gaines (
Though Gloria isn't the title character, director Daniels affords her plenty of screen time — even when she isn't speaking. Often in group scenes where she has little to say, Daniels keeps the shot tight on Winfrey, affording her the opportunity to reveal the inner life of her complicated character.
"Those eyes are mesmerizing," Daniels says, while admitting, at the same time, that not everyone seeing the rough cut of the movie shared his enthusiasm for those long close-ups of Winfrey. "You know what it is? She's got Bette Davis eyes. They were hypnotic, and I was seduced."
Will Oscar voters be similarly beguiled? Academy members can be star-struck too, particularly when the talent in question comes from outside the usual circle of filmmaking friends and acquaintances.
Musicians have been the most-rewarded interlopers over the years, with
And though he didn't technically win an Academy Award,
On the acting side,
Winfrey has been to the dance before, earning a supporting actress nomination for her high-spirited turn in
Since then, Winfrey's influence has continued to grow with multiple platforms — the
As with any powerful figure whose name has become part of the pop culture vernacular (Oprahfication, anyone?), Winfrey has her detractors too. All things equal in a contest like the Oscars where voters' personal tastes and biases enter the equation, envy sometimes plays a part. Several academy members last year privately said they wouldn't vote for Spielberg or his movie
Daniels says he doesn't really understand that kind of thinking, but does remember initial skepticism among some members of the movie's cast and crew about Winfrey's acting ability.
"I think some of the actors came to the set with eyebrows raised," he says. "I didn't care. I knew where we were going and I knew she could deliver. And they found out too once they got in the room with her."
Should Winfrey end up nominated, the second happiest group would probably be
"She's the most powerful woman on the planet," Daniels says. "I don't want people thinking I'm an Oprah psycho-fan, even though I happen to be one. Sometimes, I'm still amazed she's in the movie."