On Wednesday, April 20, Oprah Winfrey Network hosted a private screening of the new original drama series “Greenleaf” at the Roxy Hotel.
In attendance was Oprah Winfrey herself, Craig Wright, Emmy-nominated writer/producer and creator of the show, director Clement Virgo, cast and crew and Erik Logan, co-president of the network.
Featuring Oprah’s first recurring role in 20 years, the series stars Merle Dandridge and Emmy-winning actors Lynn Whitfield and Keith David. Set against the backdrop of a Memphis megachurch, the series will air to audiences nationwide with a two-night premiere on Tuesday, June 21st at 10:00 pm ET/PT and Wednesday, June 22nd at 10:00 pm ET/PT on OWN. The 13-episode first season will air regularly on Wednesday’s at 10 pm ET/PT.
The series centers around a disillusioned preacher Grace Greenleaf (Merle Dandridge, The Night Shift) who returns home after the mysterious death of her sister. She reenters the world of the Memphis megachurch run by her father Bishop James Greenleaf (Keith David) and mother Lady Mae Greenleaf (Lynn Whitfield). As the series unfolds, it becomes apparent that things are not as pious as they seem and beneath the family’s outward display of faith lies hypocrisy, scandal and deceit.
Check out our exclusive Q&A with Oprah and the cast and crew:
Erik Logan: On the behalf of Sheri Salata and myself, the co-presidents of OWN I’m not sure if you are aware of this but this room is very special. You know why? This room is the first room outside the studio to actually see this episode before it premieres tonight at the Tribeca Film Festival. You are the first group to publicly see this. Greenleaf is a one-hour drama series that centers around the Greenleaf family and it takes place in a Memphis megachurch. The show’s created and written by a fantastic writer Craig Wright. He’s written Lost and Six Feet Under. We are very blessed to have Craig be the creator and lead writer. Our executive producer and director Clement Virgo has had some acclaimed success. He wrote and directed Book of Negros. Our cast is here Merle Dandridge, Keith David, Lynn Whitfield, Lamman Rucker, Kim Hawthorne, Deborah Joy Winans, Tye White, and that’s right Oprah is here!
Q: How did you come up with the concept of the story?
Craig Wright: We thought wouldn’t it be fun to do a big brash but grounded one-hour drama about a black megachurch. A conversation just grew from there, that’s how it happened.
Oprah: It started because we said are you in a church or a black church and I was talking about the differences and that’s how basically the story got started. The idea was using this as a platform for storytelling and for me the idea and what I’m most interested in creating are stories that feature people of diversity and particularly people of color — black people of color that allow us to be real because I think the way you break down barriers in a society that doesn’t see you as fully human is to show your humanness and humanity. So to allow us to be seen in ways that are not really extraordinary but are ordinary moments make sure extraordinary lives. It’s the little things that make up real life and so we go to the grocery store and we buy products and have arguments with our families and we have dissension within ranks of our families but we still love our families and being able to see that and that connection and that growth within that family is so essential.
Craig Wright: Over the years I had always wanted to do something about religion but when you look at the history of attempts to do shows about white churches on TV it always sort of degenerates understandably to satire or sanctimony. Either you have Touched By An Angel or you have Good Christian Bitches. A lot of what made this project appealing to me is that by starting this conversation with Oprah and learning from her about the black church and learning from our writing staff about it and all the actors and people we interviewed, we got to come up with a show about people’s whose faith is real. That the show does not treat the faith with satire; it treats it with respect. That doesn’t mean you can’t tell stories that have needy turns and juicy soapy stuff in it but it takes the faith of the people very seriously. I think in a weird way doing a show about the black church actually made that possible, that the religion could be taken seriously.
Q: The Black Church is an intimate and sacred organization, Oprah were you concerned with exposing these kind of story lines?
Oprah: Not a bit. I think it’s a marvelous platform that nobody has actually explored. As I was saying earlier, I grew up in the Black Church, I won’t be who I am without it. Speaking to the writer’s room and my conversations with Craig this is not just a church for us it’s an institution. Our intention is to use this as a platform to telling great stories and our intention is to be mindful and respectful of what the Church as an institution-as a conformer, as a nurturer, as a rock in our communities as meant to us- only good can come from that. First and foremost, it’s a family drama.[slideshow]