WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — During an interview promoting her new movie, “The Butler,” Oprah Winfrey stated that Trayvon Martin’s death was the “same thing” as the torture and murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955, which helped ignite the civil rights movement across the country.
Winfrey plays the wife of Cecil Gaines (played by Forest Whitaker) in Lee Daniel’s upcoming historical drama, a film that follows the White House butler over the course of eight presidencies from the 1950s through the 1980s. Her interview with The Grio’s Chris Witherspoon discussed the movie’s impact from a racial and historical standpoint.
“How do you think this film will affect the world’s impression of the Obama administration?” Witherspoon asked Winfrey.
“It’s so easy during this time … Trayvon Martin paralleled Emmett Till, let me just tell ya. In my mind, same thing,” responded Winfrey.
“You can get stuck in that and not allow yourself to move forward and see how far we’ve come,” she said. “Look at the butler’s life. Look at that opening scene, the hanging … and then the end. We need to give ourselves a round of applause. In this country, with all of its injustices, look at what we’ve been able to do in the span of one man’s lifetime.”
Emmett Till was a Chicago native who was visiting relatives in Money, Miss., in August 1955 when he was tortured and murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman. A few nights after the alleged interaction, the woman’s husband and his half-brother arrived at Till’s great-uncle’s house, took the boy to the barn, beat him, gouged one of his eyes out, and shot him in the head before disposing of his body in the Tallahatchie River.
The boy’s body was returned to his mother in Chicago, who had raised him mostly by herself, and insisted on a public funeral service with an open casket to show the world the brutality of the killing. The two killers were acquitted of the crime, although a few months afterwards they admitted in a magazine interview that they had killed Till.
Tens of thousands attended his funeral or viewed his casket and images of his mutilated body were published in African-American magazines and newspapers, rallying popular black support and white sympathy across the U.S.
In an earlier interview with Diane Sawyer, Winfrey stated that “The Butler” would help white people understand why so many African Americans were outraged by Martin’s death and the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman.
In the interview with Witherspoon, Winfrey elaborated on the parallels between the movie’s historical portrayal of past presidents and that of President Barack Obama.
“To look at all those administrations compared to Obama. I mean Obama will stand alone because of what that represented for the country,” she said. “I was so pleased that during the process of this interview, a white reporter sitting in the very chair that you’re sitting in, said, ‘He didn’t realize until seeing this movie the depth of the importance of Obama.’ If you come away from this movie with that, well then we’ve done our job.”