Oprah Winfrey wanted to deliver a story revolving around one of the biggest institutions in the African-American community: The Black Church.
In her new dramatic series “Greenleaf ,” Winfrey believes she’s accomplished that goal. The show, which premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. EDT on Winfrey’s OWN network, explores the flawed nature of the first family of a sprawling Memphis, Tennessee, megachurch where lies, adultery and scandal consume a house of worship.
Winfrey assures the 13-episode series isn’t an attack on black churches, which the media mogul called her “foundation” and “hope for the future” growing up.
“These are stories that are reflective on our life,” said Winfrey, who is the executive producer and plays the role of Mavis McCready, an outspoken bar owner she calls the “high priestess” of the neighborhood. The character, she says, is based on her late friend and mentor Maya Angelou. This is Winfrey’s first recurring role on a scripted TV show since the 1989 ABC miniseries “Women of Brewster Place.”
“I lived in the church,” Winfrey said. “Preachers were heroes for me. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized preachers are real people. That some preachers are ordained by God. While others are kind of, maybe not.”
Winfrey said she wanted to create black characters who weren’t “fantastical or over dramatic.”
“They’re not shooting each other,” she said. “They’re not necessarily out to hurt people. They are flawed people, and you get to see imagery and the artistry of them.”
Winfrey developed “Greenleaf” with writer Craig Wright (“Six Feet Under” and “Lost”).
The show stars Merle Dandridge as Grace “Gigi” Greenleaf, the prodigal daughter who returns home for the first time in 20 years after the death of her sister, Faith. Grace brought along her daughter, Sophia, and left her successful reporter job in Arizona to return to her family’s megachurch business of Calvary Fellowship World Ministries, which is ran by her parents Bishop James (Keith David) and Lady Mae (Lynn Whitfield), who Winfrey specifically sought out for the role.
Even though Grace wants to have faith, she realizes there is deception and greed within her family circle and corruption in the church. For intel and guidance, she leans on her aunt Mavis, played by Winfrey.
“It’s about a family-run business,” said Whitfield, who in her role plays the stern family matriarch overseeing the Greenleaf estate. “It’s not just about church. It’s not about religion. It’s about a church family. We hit the human elements. Anyone can lose their way.”