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Playboy Interview: Whoopi Goldberg
  • February 26, 2012 : 20:02
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Playboy: What other kinds of problems do you encounter?

Goldberg: People, friends, suddenly treat you differently. They don't even wait for you to change and become an asshole. They just assume you're going to be one and treat you accordingly. This is very painful when all you're trying to do is figure out that you're still OK.

Playboy: When actors talk about how tough it is, most people's response is, "We should all have it so tough." What do you think?

Goldberg: I think this is a motherfucker of a business. I work 16 hours a day. I sit around. Then I have to come every time someone says, "Action." I do 80, 90 performances a day when I'm working on a movie. But people don't understand that movie people are still human beings. They say, "Your name is in magazines, you're making movies and you're complaining!" I'm not. I'm freaked because I'm in the middle of it and I can't tell what I'm doing. But I'm also lucky to have friends who can still say, "Look, bitch! Don't get cute." My kid's like that. She says that if she has to make her bed, so do I.

Playboy: You gained national attention as Celie in The Color Purple. You also received an Oscar nomination for best actress in 1986 but didn't win. Should you have?

Goldberg: No. I knew immediately it wasn't mine. In fact, I was probably lucky not to win. If I had, there'd be nowhere for me to go. People would have wondered if I was just a flash in the pan. Now they'll wait for me to get better.

Playboy: Why didn't you go to the Oscar party afterward? Pissed off?

Goldberg: No. People assumed that. I was ready to go party. Are you crazy? I had Michael J. Fox with me, and we were going to boogie all night. Instead, while I was presenting the editing award, I got very sick. I have ovarian cysts, and one burst while I was standing there. On tape, you can see me lean on the podium. I was in pain! Poor Michael ended up taking me to the hospital.

Playboy: To get the part of Celie, didn't you do a sort of command performance of your stage show for director Steven Spielberg?

Goldberg: My management initially said, "You don't have to go audition for him." I said, "Are you crazy?" One of the great things about Steven is that when he hears about something new, he wants to see it in case he can work with it. That's why new directors get such a shot with him. Apparently, enough people had said to him, "Man, we're hearing about this girl."

PlayboyThe Color Purple created a lot of controversy. There were complaints by the NAACP about the depiction of black men, criticism that the film skirted the lesbian relationship of Celie and Shug Avery, the fuss over Spielberg's failure to get an Oscar nomination, the film's getting stiffed at the awards. In retrospect, was Spielberg the right director for the job?

Goldberg: Fuck, yes. Nobody else--black, white, male, female--could have made it the way it was. His name attached to the film got people to see it. Who better? Because of him, it got out to Butt-Tussle, Idaho; to Supreme, Georgia, a town of 28 people with one moviehouse, where it played for months.

Playboy: What about the charge that black men were portrayed one-sidedly in the film?

Goldberg: No one said anything about how black men were portrayed when the book was published. Again, the key word here is Spielberg. If a black director had made the film, the NAACP wouldn't have said shit. The branch here complains there's no work for black actors. So Spielberg goes mostly with unknown black actors and the NAACP says black men are depicted in a bad light, the movie's fucked up and you shouldn't go see it.

But before that, the movie, Purple Rain came out, with a lot of black men in it. They throw women into trash cans and scheme and lie and nigger around, as it were. Great concert footage. I'm a big fan of Prince's music. But that movie is the most disgusting throwback I've ever seen. These guys are abusing women. Is that image different from what they think Mister is doing? Is Morris Day any different from Harpo? Nobody said a word.

By the way, after the Oscars, the same branch of the NAACP bitched because The Color Purple didn't win anything. That says there's some bullshit floating around here.

Playboy: What difficulties have you encountered, being black in Hollywood?

Goldberg: I don't think of things in terms of color. Hollywood does. When I grew up, it was never an issue. My mother would say, "Look, you're black. You woke up black this morning, you'll go to bed black tonight. But it doesn't make any difference. It doesn't mean that you will be better or worse at school. It doesn't mean that you will get or not get jobs," which was kind of--in this field--not exactly true. But I didn't know that until very recently. People kept saying, "You know, there aren't a lot of black movies." And I didn't get what they meant. In New York, actors are not black and white. They're actors. You have Diana Sands and Alan Alda doing The Owl and the Pussycat. But you come here and people say, "You're good but, shit, we can't have an interracial couple." Is there a law that says you can't? "Well, no. It's just that our audience wouldn't be ready for it."

Playboy: How did you manage to get used to that attitude?

Goldberg: I didn't get used to it at all. I just kind of ignore it, and I tell other people to do the same. I'm always asked what advice I have for black actors. Simple: Don't think about being black. It's not like you can pretend to be a white person.

Playboy: Well, of course.

Goldberg: Not "of course." It's the same thing as my being told I want to be white because I wear blue contact lenses. Does anybody tell Cher she wants to be whatever because she wears blue or green contact lenses? Does anyone say to Tina Turner, "Damn, Tina! You wanna be white because you don't have nappy hair! How come you wearing those wigs?" It doesn't have anything to do with being black or white. There are plenty of black people who have green eyes. I don't have them. But if I want 'em, I can get 'em!

Playboy: True. But the issue remains. Isn't a strong identification with one's roots, in this case black, a way to circumvent ever being criticized for trying to act white.

Goldberg: Well, how do white people act? How do black people act? How do you know on the phone who's what? When you listen to my Surfer Chick, you can't tell that I'm a black woman doing a white woman. You can't, you know. I don't deal with people and their color, because it means I can't work. As soon as I put a limit of being a black and a woman on myself, that narrows down the field of work to nothing. To nothing. Actors have no color. That is the art form. Actors are supposed to be able to do anything. Be anyone.

Playboy: Do you believe in promoting black pride, black ideals?

Goldberg: I believe in promoting pride. Just people's pride.

Playboy: Some might say your "colorlessness" was simply a way of side-stepping confrontations.

Goldberg: With whom? I'm not colorless. You can see that I'm black. It's not something I consciously think about. It just is. It's like having a dick. You don't think about having a dick. You just have one.

Playboy: If being black is not an issue with you, is being a woman?

Goldberg: No. I don't think of life in terms of being a woman, either.

Playboy: Would you call yourself a feminist?

Goldberg: No. Look, I'll tell you what I'm into. I like the idea of being able to talk to people about certain issues that affect men and women. For example, abortion. Otherwise, I'd have to think about life as a woman, then as a black person, then as a black woman, then what happens if I add Catholic--it's endless! I'm trying in my own way to maintain a humanistic view of everything. It sounds peachy-cute to a lot of people, but I don't give a fuck. I don't want to represent this or speak for that. That only leads to people fighting, and then someone says you're not fighting hard enough for women with behinds that sag closer to their knees. And what about the men with no toes?

Playboy: What were your attitudes while you were growing up?

Goldberg: I grew up in a place where people said, "Do whatever you can do and do it well, because it's going to be tough, you know? Not because you're a woman, not because you're black, but because it's a motherfucker out there." I didn't know about women's rights or men's rights. As far as I knew, I had all the rights that I needed. Then, suddenly, in the Sixties, we had middle-class women who decided that P.T.A. wasn't enough, that being a cuff link on their husband's arm was not enough. So they called themselves women's liberators. But they weren't liberating people in my neighborhood, because the mothers were always working mothers. Single parents often raised their children.

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