Whoopi Goldberg, one of 16 people who has managed to achieve EGOT status, was honored with another award on Thursday night: Vulture’s Honorary Degree of Master of Culture.
During Vulture Festival, Goldberg accepted the prestigious honor from New York Magazine and Vulture writer E. Alex Jung. The Honorary Degree is given to somebody who has made their mark in the cultural landscape. Goldberg is the second recipient of Vulture’s Honorary Degree after fellow Laura Dern Oscar inaugural honor went to another Oscar winner Laura Dern.
Jung congratulated Goldberg and immediately went into RuPaul’s Drag Race (as you do). Goldberg was recently a guest judge this season and she talked about how excited she was to be on the Emmy-award winning show. She also noted that she was intimidated by RuPaul’s beauty but at the same time, she appreciated the host’s candor and ability to be on a judges panel. That said, Goldberg pointed out that she would have liked to see RuPaul question Amy Coney Barrett during the confirmation hearings.
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Goldberg said of these confirmation hearings: “Politicians could only do so much.” She added that it should be “real people” who these politicians will be serving.
That said, the conversation steered in the direction of the upcoming election. However, they didn’t float around the topic too long but she said that no matter who wins the election, “we are still gonna fight these fights”, referring to LGBTQ rights, women’s rights and injustice facing the Black community.
“Get ready for another bout of fighting,” she added.
She went on to talk about The Color Purple and her audition for Steven Spielberg which became a conversation about being a Black actor in an era when there were so little — especially after The Color Purple earned so many accolades including an Oscar nom for her.
“It took me a long time to understand what was happening,” she said. “For me, I was so thrilled to be entering into the world of movies… it was really exciting — but only when people started to look at me and go, ‘What are you really? Are you a comic? An actor? What’s that on your hair?’”
However, she said that she had the opportunity to do a lot of things that she wouldn’t have been able to do unless she said she would like to try. “I didn’t realize my difference, really,” she said. “I didn’t realize that there were things people think I couldn’t do, not because I wasn’t talented, but because I was Black.” In particular, she talked about how many were uncomfortable with her doing intimate scenes and, as a result, she had to act accordingly — despite having a “robust sex life.”
Hearing Goldberg talk about her life as a Black actress during that era was very interesting in that she had to not only navigate a landscape where people haven’t ever been around people of color in their life. More than that, she dealt with proving herself within her own community. She addressed her name of “Whoopi Goldberg” and how many thought she wanted to be a white woman — she just liked the name and it was a family name. “And it goes well with Whoopi so why wouldn’t we use it?” she asked.
There were times that she had to prove that she was Black but, at the same she said that even though one person’s idea of being Black differed from hers, it didn’t mean that hers wasn’t legit. This brought up the topic of her butting with Spike Lee. They have come to terms and are friendly now, but at one time she said that he was upset with her because she didn’t have a lot of Black people work for her. “First of all, I can’t afford an entourage,” she laughed.
She didn’t think there was anything wrong with how she lived her life. She said “If there weren’t enough Black people in my life, that’s how he felt. That’s who he was being at the time.” They have since reconciled and she said he was just messing with her.
She created her own opportunity even though she was “handheld” into the business by Spielberg and Mike Nichols. “It still wasn’t enough to make people comfortable and believe in my abilities.”
She added, “I’m not bitching but I were born a guy it would have been a lot easier — but maybe not. Maybe I would have been too close to Eddie Murphy and there could only be one Eddie. Who can say? Because the pool was very small with people of color.”
From The Color Purple, Goldberg went on to star in many movies including Ghost, which earned her an Oscar as well as Sister Act which has become a pop culture staple. Her career was brought to a halt when she cracked a sexual joke George Bush during a Democratic fundraiser in New York. She couldn’t get work and she was even dropped as a spokesperson for Slim Fast. She went to radio and then eventually Barbara Walters asked her to be on The View.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” she said toward the end of the conversation. “You don’t have to agree with it but it doesn’t give you the right to send death threats. Life’s too short for this. We can all disagree and find things we can do.”
She continued, “None of us is one thing. We’re always shifting and changing.”