Oprah Winfrey is partnering with Lionsgate to turn The New York Times’s 1619 Project into feature films and television programs.
The 1619 Project is a series of essays and multimedia creations produced by The New York Times and one of their leading writers, Nikole Hannah-Jones. The purpose of the project is to reframe American history by claiming that America’s founding is based on racism instead of equality and liberty. Hannah-Jones’ goal in creating the project was to show how slavery and racism have had a lasting effect on all of America’s institutions.
Much of the 1619 Project is repackaged critical race theory, which argues that America and its laws, systems, and institutions are innately racist. This effort to extend The New York Times’s reeducation program into popular culture is particularly dangerous because stories have the power to change minds through emotion instead of reason.
The campaign to legalize gay marriage is a perfect case study in how entertainment can change the minds of a generation on a particular topic more quickly than any legislation or social protest movement. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2004 polls showed that 60 percent of Americans opposed same-sex marriage privileges, but by 2019 that number shrank to 31 percent.
Many social scientists agree it was the growing visibility of gay people in popular culture that was responsible for the shift, reports the Washington Post. Once people began to relate to and feel compassion for either fictional gay characters on shows like “Will and Grace” or actual gay people like Ellen DeGeneres, it wasn’t long before their minds swayed on related policies.
This is the power of pop culture. As is often said, it is more important to write the songs of a nation than its laws. As historian Wilfred McClay writes in “Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story,” “We need stories to speak to the fullness of our humanity and help us orient ourselves in the world. The impulse to write history and organize our world around stories is intrinsic to us as human beings. We are at our core, remembering and story-making creatures, and stories are one of the chief ways we find meaning in the flow of events.”
This is why turning the 1619 Project into film and television is so dangerous. It will teach Americans the falsehoods that their nation was founded on racism and oppression and that every institution they’ve trusted has been built on the same.
Changing American Minds on History
Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer said, “For many Americans, ‘The 1619 Project’ was a great awakening and a true history that you probably never learned in school.” Two Lionsgate chairmen applauded the 1619 Project for “challenging the entire history we thought we knew, revealing the true role of slavery and the impact of racial prejudice in shaping the America of today.”
Oprah also praised the project: “From the first moment I read ‘The 1619 Project’ and immersed myself in Nikole Hannah-Jones’s transformative work, I was moved, deepened and strengthened by her empowering historical analysis.”
Unmentioned by any of the above is that one of the project’s key historical claims, that the Revolutionary War was fought to preserve the slave system, had to be corrected or that numerous renowned historians have criticized the project for relying more on an ideological narrative than on historical fact. Like Howard Zinn before her, Hannah-Jones chose a narrative and then bent bits and pieces of facts to fit into it.
Turning the 1619 Project’s debunked history into film could set the narrative on American history for decades. Most Americans do not fact-check the films they watch. Destroying American heroes in film and on television by overemphasizing their flaws and underemphasizing their contributions will do more to demoralize American patriotism than any statue toppling.
Making Americans More Extreme About Race
Hannah-Jones has extreme views on race. In a 1995 letter to Notre Dame University’s student newspaper, she wrote that “the white race is the biggest murderer, rapist, pillager, and thief of the modern world.” In this same letter she likened Christopher Columbus to Adolf Hitler. It is no wonder that she proudly accepted Charles Kesler’s suggestion that the recent violence in cities across America should be called the “1619 riots.”
Identity politics teaches that the entire world must be looked at through the lens of race, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity, writes scholar David Azerrad. Identity politics also operates under the assumption that everyone is either in a group that oppresses or is oppressed. These are not only demonstrably false, they increase animosity between groups rather than uniting society around the common good.
It is fascinating that two of the most privileged women in America, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hannah-Jones and media empire queen Oprah Winfrey, are advancing the claim that black people are still systematically oppressed. No reasonable person denies that there are still instances of racism and pockets of people with provincial racist attitudes, but to call fundamentally oppressive a country that has provided its citizens more opportunity than any society in history is nonsensical. Winfrey and Hannah-Jones’ own success are a testament that, although there might be obstacles, success in this country is possible for anyone.
The Power of Storytelling
Having indoctrinated an entire generation of college-educated Gen Xers into believing that America was founded on racism, the media elites now seek to convert everyone else. Azerrad argues that while identity politics reigns almost unchallenged among media and academic elites, it has not yet fully conquered the entire public’s mind.
Up to this point, many Americans have been somewhat insulated from the propaganda taught by university ideologues. They may have vague memories of reading Howard Zinn in school, but they were also taught to say the Pledge of Allegiance and that patriotism is good. This will change as identity politics and critical race theory becomes more ubiquitous in film and television.
If conservatives want to fight against these harmful ideas, they must take storytelling seriously. It might make think tank scholars feel good if their white paper win a policy battle on Capitol Hill, but conservatives will lose the culture war unless they begin to capture the hearts and minds of Americans.
If conservatives leave the storytelling to leftist scions like Oprah, then they will be consigning their movement to the ash heap. Turning the 1619 Project’s biased re-telling of American history into film will do more to affect society than all the rioting, statue toppling, and media opining combined. This is why conservatives need to start telling the American story themselves.