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Whose Eyes, Watching What God?


Oprah Winfrey is one of the most visible and powerful individuals in modern American culture. She is, in many ways, a prime example of the American dream -- overcoming poverty and racism to find wealth and success. She can launch an author to fame, attract virtually any celebrity, and champion any cause.

Last week she chose the corner primetime television for two hours on ABC, reaching an audience of 24.6 million viewers with her production of Zora Neale Hurston's novel "Their Eyes Were Watching God."

With the raw talent and beauty of Halle Berry in the leading role and the commercial blitz promoting the movie, I joined millions of Americans to witness what I thought would be a Hallmark-style, spiritually uplifting message of hope.

I could not have been more disappointed. 

The African-American community has been mistreated, misused and even abused from the time slavery was tragically introduced to this country. Slavery is a despicable abomination. The century of racism that prevailed after the Emancipation Proclamation was a further disgrace. It is only in my lifetime that the shackles of oppression have begun to break.

Throughout history, much of the African-American community was able to endure their oppression and eventually overcome racial barriers because of their deep spiritual roots -- from the slaves singing spiritual songs in the cotton fields to the civil rights marchers who rallied around Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. True freedom started in the Christian church and the strength and courage to fight for racial equality often draws upon a faith in God.

But the eyes watching Oprah's movie never saw God.

The story depicted a beautiful black woman's lifetime of abuse, suffered at the hands of both whites and blacks, but there was little, if any, real spiritual value in the movie. Instead, it spiraled downward into a debasing display of licentiousness. It was as if Oprah was trying to one-up Brittany and Madonna.

Berry's character seemed to find her glimpse of God in her self-indulgent freedom to run from one abusive relationship to another. Where was the God to whom the early American slaves sang their haunting, somber hymns, asking Him to come forth and carry them home? Where was the God who gave Rev. King the courage to stand up for his convictions and preach the dream of a brighter day?

Critics have pointed out that the TV movie glossed over some of the more important issues, such as the caste system among dark-skinned and light-skinned blacks, and chose to focus more on the sexual wandering of one attractive woman who had little understanding of real love. Self-centered, indulgent men did little to lift her spirit. I cannot comprehend why someone like Oprah would take the low road on such historically important issues. 

Maybe I'm the one who cannot see clearly, but I believe Oprah missed a great opportunity to give us a glimpse of the One who delivers us from spiritual bondage, dispelling the darkness of this earth with His unconditional love.

Hopefully, the viewers of last week's abysmal performance will take it upon themselves to set their eyes on God, because I certainly did not see Him in Ms. Winfrey's movie.

Author: James Robison

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About the author: James Robison is the founder and president of LIFE Outreach International, an international humanitarian aid ministry; host of the television program, Life Today; and author of The Absolutes.

Media Contact: Randy Robison, randy.robison at

Photo available upon request. Reprint rights granted with attribution for complete, unedited article. Revisions allowed only with approval.