by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Oprah Winfrey is one of the troublemakers behind The 1619 Project, Hulu’s TV show. It’s a spin-off from the controversial 2019 New York Times Magazine opus led by writer Nikole Hannah-Jones, who sought to “reframe” American history. Hannah-Jones proposed the arrival of slaves on these shores four centuries ago, in 1619, as the true, corrupt beginning of the United States of America. Oprah congratulates Hannah-Jones’s endeavor by rubber-stamping it in her own preferred medium.
A six-part TV program, advertised as a “docuseries,” The 1619 Project represents a convergence of Oprah’s media empire with the Disney corporation that owns Hulu. The show is co-produced with Oprah through the Onyx Collective, a racially segregated content brand for “creators of color and other underrepresented groups,” as Disney heralded in 2021.
Seen through Oprah’s eyes, The 1619 Project makes clearer sense of Hannah-Jones’s fabrication than historians and think-tankers such as Robert Woodson (head of the 1776 Commission, aka The 1776 Project) have been able to. By countering Hannah-Jones strictly on the basis of her poor scholarship, they underestimate the bad faith of the project, which is evident in Oprah’s TV adaptation.
This show is for the semi-literate, content-hungry masses who can’t read through to the Times’ true agenda but can be swayed, maybe, by Oprah’s visual divertissements such as the drama Queen Sugar (a collaboration with Ava DuVernay) and interviews such as Oprah with Meghan and Harry. Here, Oprah attempts to make a star of Hannah-Jones, the fuchsia-haired activist-journalist who narrates the series and does face-to-face interviews with family members and friends. (Nikole competes with Joy Reid, Symone Sanders, and Karine Jean-Pierre.) Focus on authorial personality is something readers overlook; it was obscured by the Times’ powerful hegemony, which some people take objectively but believe as truth.