Suffice it to say that of all the lousy decisions made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and its Board of Governors, choosing Oprah Winfrey to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award has to rank among the worst. This Oscar statuette is supposed to be given “to an individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry”. Winfrey’s career and contributions to the movie business are at best spotty and superficial, especially considering that 99% of her career has been in television. Is the movie academy telling Hollywood that no one among the philanthropic film bigwigs deserved this award more than her this year? Or is this merely a matter of another of the rich and powerful just throwing their weight around and buying the Governors Award honor for ego feed?
And while we’re on the subject, tonight’s AMPAS announcement specifically points to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls which opened in South Africa in 2007. Who has forgotten the sexual abuse scandal that rocked that school set up for disadvantaged girls by the syndicated talk show queen?
As news reports chronicled, dormitory matron Tiny Virginia Makopo, 27, was charged with 13 separate counts of abuse, including indecent assault and criminal injury committed against at least six students aged 13 to 15 and a 23-year-old at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls whose 152 students were handpicked by Winfrey. All the dorm matrons were dismissed. Oprah blamed the high incidence of sexual abuse in South Africa as a whole (a woman is raped every 40 seconds in this country of 44 million — a total of 55,000 rapes a year) for the problem. But Winfrey admitted in a news conference that the school’s measures to keep abusers out proved insufficient. Though she said she was not responsible for hiring at the school, Winfrey said “the buck always stops with me.”
Makopo was found not guilty on all the sexual assault charges, and Winfrey said she was “profoundly disappointed” by the trial’s outcome. but The head mistress of the program, Nomvuyo Mzamane, was fired and sued Winfrey and Winfrey’s affiliated companies in November 2008 for defamation claiming that Winfrey tarnished her character because of Winfrey’s rush-to-judgment statements made when the school abuse scandal broke.