Earlier this week, journalists were called to a swanky hotel in New York City to sit with the (majority-black) cast and director (George C. Wolfe) of HBO’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. We weren’t given many details—just where to be and at what time. With Oprah Winfrey leading the star-studded cast, we could only assume that she’d be in the building. Winfrey is very hands-on in promoting the projects she’s involved in.
Usually when I attend these things, I come early, get a good seat, go over my questions and scroll down my social media feeds. When people begin to arrive, usually there are at least three or four other black folks in the room and we typically know one another. Pleasantries, latest projects, and triumphs and trials are shared and we go back to waiting on the celebrity in question.
That’s what I was expecting to do as I walked into the Henrietta Lacks junket. I spotted two of my fellow journalist girlfriends and exchanged said pleasantries, and then more people started showing up. Not just any kind of people but, specifically, black women. So I took out my phone and hopped on Snapchat to share that I am in a room filled with other professional black female journalists and that this type of magic never happens. The other black women in the room joined me on social media, snapping photos, hashtagging #BlackGirlMagic and all.
We laughed; there were more than enough “girllllls” being thrown around, and it felt good. There’s no way to describe it, but there was magic in the midst. There was an unspoken familiarity, bond and movement happening right there in that room.
And then it happened. Oprah casually walked in, spotted all the beautiful black women’s faces there and instantly started dancing.
This is how she entered the room:
One of the most incredible black women on the planet noticed. “Has this ever happened?” She asked us collectively. We all said, “No!” Usually, there’s a sprinkle of us in the room, but this time, not only did we have a seat at the table; we filled up the entire thing! We were in formation.
“Get Oprah her phone!” I yelled, and it was met with girlish laughter. I knew that Oprah liked social media, and a moment like this could light up her Instagram feed.
“Can someone get me my phone?” Oprah asked one of the people from her entourage. There was no denying it. The room filled to with black women was something to marvel at that even black girl magician herself, Oprah, noticed. This rarity needed to be celebrated.
Within minutes, her phone was in hand, and after the panel, we stood with Oprah for our #BlackGirlMagic moment. She embraced us all—and of course I took a coveted spot right beside her—and told us to yell, “Yay!” She said if you do that, the picture comes out better. We screamed, “Yay” as if we were being paid to do so.
And guess who stepped up to take the picture? Courtney B. Vance (who plays Sir Lord Keenan Kester Cofield in the film), as if he’s not a huge star with better things to do. You could tell the #BlackGirlMagic had him under a spell, too. He even sat with us during the panel—breaking the imaginary fourth wall that keeps the talent and the journalists separate.
I was even able to get another small moment with Oprah when I told her just how much she meant to me when I was a big black girl growing up in North Carolina with no evidence that success or even happiness in my career was possible (or having a career); seeing her on my TV every week challenged that. She said “You’re welcome” in such an endearing way, I had no doubt in my mind that even though she is praised daily, she heard mine individually, felt the impact and received the gratitude.
After the pictures, Oprah, Wolfe, Vance and other cast members Renée Elise Goldsberry, Rose Byrne, Reg E. Cathey and Rocky Carroll left; the other black female journalists and I stayed behind, sharing contact information, Instagram handles and all. And then I said, “Can we just take a moment for what just happened to us?” And we screamed and giggled, “Yassss!” We didn’t have to say anything else to confirm the enchantment we had all just experienced.
Later that night, at the screening of the film, I linked up with my managing editor, Danielle Belton. Our theater seats were assigned, so we headed down the aisle to find them. Ours were dab in the front row, and immediately, I complained. “No one sits in this row in real life!” I said. I pouted for a bit and decided that it was fine because at least I was right by the stage, where Oprah would obviously be presenting.
It was like a magic trick. Just like that, Oprah appeared, walking down the aisle toward the stage. She walked toward me and said, “Oh hey, ‘Black Girl Magic’ again?!” before she slid into the seat beside me. I quietly freaked out at Oprah recognizing me and sharing another girlfriend moment with me! I opened my phone and starting sharing on Instagram and Snapchat that Oprah and I were basically besties. I couldn’t sit still! Oprah was just chilling right beside me. What is life!?
After the movie, Belton said, “I can’t believe that, two in one day!” She was referring to my double Oprah magic moments. And I couldn’t believe it, either! I never really believed in magic until that day.
Editor’s note: You can read Danielle Young’s review of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks here.