Oprah Winfrey to star in black megachurch TV drama series

4/29/2016, 8:03 a.m.
Oprah Winfrey is returning to scripted television more than two decades after her last regular small screen acting gig in ...
Oprah Winfrey and Lynn Whitfield



Oprah Winfrey is returning to scripted television more than two decades after her last regular small screen acting gig in a show that is close to her heart — a family drama centered around a black megachurch in Memphis.

Ms. Winfrey, 62, plays a manipulative blues club owner in the 13-episode series “Greenleaf” for her OWN cable television channel that she called “a dream come true.”

“I believe that what we all love is a good story,” Ms. Winfrey said at a screening April 20 at the Tribeca film festival, ahead of the show’s TV debut on June 21.

Ms. Winfrey, also an executive producer, said she saw “Greenleaf” as continuing the mission behind her long-running TV talk show that ended in 2011, and that also informs her magazine “O.”

“My real role on earth is to lift the consciousness … It’s about showing people new ways of seeing themselves and seeing the problems and flaws and dysfunctions that we all have and being able to lift that just enough that you can see yourself in that,” she told the Tribeca audience.

Merle Dandridge and Kevin David

Photo by Eli Ade; Courtesy of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network

Merle Dandridge and Kevin David

Ms. Winfrey, who was nominated for an Oscar in 1986 for her role in “The Color Purple,” and appeared in movies “The Butler” and “Selma,” last had a regular acting TV part in “Brewster Place” in 1990.

“Greenleaf,” created by “Six Feet Under” writer Craig Wright, tells the story of a wealthy African-American family behind a megachurch, their rivalries, secrets and hypocrisies.

Mr. Wright said the show takes religion, and its role in the black community seriously, but also raises questions.

“It is not a soap. It is not a sermon,” he said.

“It is a story about a lost faith and an attempt to get it back by setting things right and all the challenges that come your way when you try to fix the system,” Mr. Wright added.

Merle Dandridge stars as Grace Greenleaf, the prodigal daughter who returns home after a 20-year rift, and Lynn Whitfield plays family matriarch Lady Mae Greenleaf.

Ms. Whitfield said the series represented a departure from other TV depictions of the black community.

“This is a story we have not seen on TV for a long time … It is not about racial problems or financial difficulty. These people have to deal with themselves and their lives,” she said.