Oprah Winfrey: My Friends Are Forbidden From Using the N-Word Around Me

Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker on the cover of Parade
The Butler's Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker cover the Aug. 4, 2013 issue of Parade. Michael Edwards

Oprah Winfrey doesn't need a linguistics degree to understand why certain words hold more meaning than others. Appearing on the Aug. 4 cover of Parade, the TV mogul explains why she's strongly opposed to using the N-word in casual conversation. "You cannot be my friend and use that word around me," the 59-year-old says. "It shows my age, but I feel strongly about it. I always think of the millions of people who heard that as their last word as they were hanging from a tree." 

Lee Daniels, who directs Winfrey in The Butler, admits that he used the word "quite a bit" until Winfrey sat him down "and talked about its power."

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Winfrey also suggests that today's young people "don't know diddly-squat" about the civil rights movement. "Do we live in a land where Martin Luther King's dream has been ultimately fulfilled? No. Has part of the dream been fulfilled?"

The Mississippi native nods her head and continues, "Are more people judged by the content of their character than by the color of their skin? Yes. Is everybody judged by the content of their character? Absolutely not."

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Winfrey agreed to appear in The Butler at Daniels' urging. "Lee was relentless," she recalls. "I remember being on my mountain in Maui, where I go to try to restore myself. And he called saying, 'You need to get ready, because you are Gloria.'"

The movie marks Winfrey's first dramatic role since 1998's Beloved. She plays Gloria Gaines, wife of White House butler Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker). The drama revisits major historical events, including the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., as told through the eyes of the Gaines family.

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"Gloria represented to me every woman of that era who sacrificed herself, never bringing her own dreams to fruition because family took precedence over everything," Winfrey tells Parade. "It's a story many have not seen with black people in these roles, because usually we're one extreme or another. But to see that we are people who love our children, who have the same aspirations as everybody else — I just love that."

Whitaker, 52, hopes The Butler reopens the conversation about race in America. "How can we move the needle forward? Can we speak up? I think this film helps that in some way," he says. Winfrey adds, "People need to see this movie."

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