Of all the events in Oprah Winfrey’s life, none has affected her powerfully as playing the part of Sethe, the former slave who must come to terms with a haunting past, in Jonathan Demme’s film of Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel – coming from Touchstone Pictures in Fall 1998. Oprah fell in love with the book when it was first published in 1988, and instantly became determined to deliver this powerful story to film herself. But making the movie was something even more profound than she might have imagined, and JOURNEY TO THE BELOVED is her own emotional account of that experience.
With Oprah’s heartfelt words and the evocative images of Ken Regan, JOURNEY TO THE BELOVED is an elegant book that will interest fans of Oprah, of Toni Morrison, and of fine filmmaking. Accompanying Oprah’s personal journals and thoughts about the Beloved experience is a foreword by Jonathan Demme and a chorus of voices, from Danny Glover, Than die Newton, Kimberly Elise, and Beah Richards. The result is a tribute to a courageous work of art, expressed as only Oprah can express it.
For almost 10 years Oprah Winfrey has pursued her dream of bringing Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Beloved, to the big screen. Now that dream has been realized, and the process is described in Journey to Beloved. The most extraordinary thing about this production diary, and the essay that prefaces it, is the extent to which it reveals Oprah’s private struggles. As director Jonathan Demme writes in the foreword, we all have an image of Oprah as a “Major Public Figure,” and one might approach this book, and even the movie, with preconceptions about her. These preconceptions evaporate immediately. She is filled with doubts about her ability to play the central role of Sethe. Surrounded by more experienced moviemakers, from Demme to costar Danny Glover, she worries that she lacks the skill and the strength to carry a project that is so important to her. Oprah obviously feels a deep spiritual connection with the story she is committing to film. This connection, which is shared with the cast and crew of Beloved, comes through clearly in every diary entry:
Tomorrow is the first day of dialogue. Am I ready? I think so. I bring the force and grace of history and pain with me, carrying the Ancestors in my heart, hoping, but also knowing, they, too, carry me…. I ask God for grace, and the power of the spirits whose lives went unnoticed, demeaned and diminished by slavery. Calling on you. Calling on you. I try to prepare in terms of logic, reasoning, what would [Sethe] be thinking–chronologically–but I really believe I can call her up. Her and so many others. I’m counting on them.
Journey to Beloved is filled with wonderful, powerful, black-and-white production images by award-winning photographer Ken Regan. These, and the text that they accompany, lift this book far above anything that could be called a movie tie-in. It is the moving record of a journey from the birth of a dream to its fulfillment. –Simon Leake