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Oprah and ‘The Butler’ Cast Talk Racism and the N-Word

When Oprah Winfrey sat down with “The Butler” co-star Forest Whitaker and director Lee Daniels to discuss their personal experiences with racism, she made it very clear that she doesn’t tolerate the use of the N-word.

The N-word debate was sparked once again after celebrity chef Paula Deen admitted to using the word in her past. Oprah was even brought into an N-word controversy when actress Rae Dawn Chong decided to throw the nasty word her way,  calling the talk show host a “field n***a.”

Rae Dawn obviously isn’t a friend of Oprah’s now but if she was, the mere use of that term would have been enough to kick her out of Oprah’s good graces.

“You cannot be my friend and use that word around me,” Oprah said during the interview with Parade Magazine. “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.”

Whitaker also revealed he strongly dislikes the word and after some recent run-ins with racial profiling, it’s no surprise that he simply can’t stand it.

“I don’t use the word. Never did,” he said.

It was only a few months ago that Whitaker was publicly frisked at a New York deli after being falsely accused of shoplifting.

“I’ve had many incidents in my life of racism,” Whitaker added. “I’ve been thrown on the ground. I’ve been frisked. I’ve been arrested so many times I couldn’t tell you. I have no need to talk about it.”

Whitaker and Winfrey aren’t the only African-Americans who have experienced racism, but despite being discriminated against Daniels admitted that in the past he  frequently used the N-word.

“It’s a word I used quite a bit, until Oprah sat me down and talked to me about its power,” Daniels said.

He also explained how racism impacts his daily life in even the most basic ways.

“It’s a given,” he said. “I can’t even get a taxi [in New York]. I send my [white] assistant out to get a taxi because I can’t.”

Just as Daniels wasn’t aware of the N-word’s “power,” Oprah feels that many young people today don’t understand how strong the word really is, partly because they 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,” Oprah said. “Has part of the dream been fulfilled?”

Oprah nodded her head to suggest that only a part of  King’s dream has been fulfilled.

“Are more people judged by the content of their character than by the color of their skin? Yes,” she added. “Is everybody judged by the content of their character? Absolutely not.”

Having their own personal experiences with racism in America makes Whitaker and Winfrey all the more perfect for their new roles in “The Butler,” which will revisit many historical moments, including King’s assassination.

Oprah will take on the role of Gloria Gaines, who is the wife of Cecil Gaines, played by Whitaker and she has already been drawing attention for her work.

Critics who caught a sneak peek at the film are raving over Oprah’s performance, but they may actually have Daniels to thank for the stellar casting.

“Lee was relentless,” she said of the film’s director. “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.’ “

Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda, John Cusack and Robin Williams are also included in the film’s star-studded cast.

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