For nearly 30 years, Oprah Winfrey has been one of the most influential voices in American culture, overseeing a multi-billion dollar empire that includes publishing, radio, movies, and television. But this past weekend, millions of viewers in India believe they witnessed Oprah at her worst.
Two episodes of Winfrey's OWN series “Oprah’s Next Chapter,” aired over the weekend in India and created an explosion of criticism. Critics say that the episodes reinforced stereotypes of India, complete with arranged marriages, Bollywood glamour, and Slumdog Millionaire-like tales. Has Oprah alienated the largest democracy in the world with her depiction of their nation?
Deepak Kashyap is a psychologist in India who regularly appears on the BBC to talk about Indian culture and life. She thinks that Oprah acted poorly when she expressed surprise when she saw Indians eating with their hands.
"Somebody of Oprah's money and resources [should have] researched it enough to not have been that surprised," Kashyap says. "And the way the surprise was shown was as unappreciable as a general flaunting of conventional mannerisms as a guest in someone's house. You don't go to someone's house and make them feel inadequate, and then ask them [if they're] happy living in this small house."
"I'm willing to grant her the benefit of the doubt by saying that her intention wasn't to insult anyone, but that's what ended up happening anyway.
Robert Kolker is a writer for New York Magazine who has written about Oprah Winfrey in depth. He says that Oprah has been regarded as being out of touch for years, but there are also concerns about Oprah Winfrey Network, which Kolker thinks is Oprah's next step towards retirement.
"I think what happened in India might be a result of her being slightly out of touch, but it's also a result of her winging it in terms of her working life," he says. "She thought, 'I'll go to India because I'm interested in India and we'll put a show around it,' but perhaps it was a little light on the research."