Whoopi Goldberg On ‘Ghost’ At 30, ‘Gone With The Wind’s’ Racism , And How The Academy Board Governor Is Helping Drive AMPAS Toward Diversity

EXCLUSIVE: Believe it or not the 1990  Oscar winning box office blockbuster Ghost celebrates its 30th anniversary this month, and to mark that milestone  Paramount Home Entertainment’s Paramount Presents label releases a new limited edition collectible Blu Ray on Tuesday which has been  remastered from a 4K film transfer supervised by director Jerry Zuker including a  new Filmmaker Focus with him and other previously seen extras. As you might recall Ghost tells the story of Sam (Patrick Swayze) who is recently departed from the living world, but left behind in spirit form.  While desperate to reconnect with the love of his life, Molly (Demi Moore), Sam discovers his death wasn’t just a random robbery gone bad.  To solve his own murder, he enlists the talents of a skeptical psychic (Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award winning role), who doesn’t even believe her own abilities.

An article last week in Forbes, which calls Ghost the “blockbuster Hollywood forgot” with “no sequels or spinoffs, nostalgic reissues, ripoffs or copycats” (it did inspire a tepid Broadway musical version)  reminds us of the sheer box office power of this word of mouth hit.  “By the end of 1990, Ghost’s $505.702 million global cume was just behind Star Wars (”just” $503 million in its original release and $530 million counting reissues) and E.T. ($663 million in its original 1982 release). Over the next decade, it would be surpassed only by Terminator 2: Judgment Day ($516 million in 1991), Jurassic Park ($922 million in 1993), The Lion King ($763 million in 1994), Forrest Gump ($677 million in 1994), Independence Day ($817 million in 1996) and finally pushed to 11th place in 1997 by The Lost World ($619 million), Men in Black ($577 million) and Titanic ($1.8 billion). By its tenth anniversary, it was still the sixteenth-biggest grosser of all time (counting those Star Wars Special Edition reissues),” the piece by writer Scott Mendelson points out.  “Arguably more important is the list of movies that earned less worldwide than Ghost. That includes Aladdin, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Beverly Hills Cop, Twister, Mission: Impossible, Toy Story,  every Rocky and Rambo, the first two Star Wars sequels (until Empire’s SE reissue in 1997), the initial Indiana Jones trilogy, every 007 movie until Casino Royale and every non-Spider-Man comic book superhero movie until 2008. Not until 2013 (Thor: The Dark World and Man of Steel) did we got a single non-Spider-Man/Iron Man/Batman comic book superhero movie that even topped $500 million. This original, non-franchise, PG-13, female-targeted supernatural romantic thriller was far more successful than the deluge of 1980’s and 1990’s action movies and fantasy properties that now make up our nostalgic pop culture.”

Pretty impressive, yet Forbes intimates unlike many similar blockbusters , it was a one-off , even largely forgotten in this summer of its 30th anniversary where many beloved  above-named past hits are once again topping box office charts from largely drive-in revivals in light of the Coronavirus pandemic. But in a phone conversation with Goldberg, initiated because as she tells me the article set her off when she saw it, believing that it short-changed the true power of the film including her co-star, the late Swayze, and perhaps the value of a mixed cast among other things.

“When I was reading it, and reading how much money it brought in, and how it had been bigger than all these other movies. I thought, but (Forbes) is doing the same thing other people have done. They sort of denigrated the fact that this was a terrific movie, and it was also really funny too, and in part, I did that,” she said about why people may have overlooked the reasons for the enormous success of the film in recent years . “And we were a very mixed cast, and it makes you wonder, you know, 30 years later, was it because we were a mixed cast that nobody wanted to celebrate it, the way that, you know, had it been any other cast that happened to be maybe all white, people might’ve celebrated it?”

Goldberg was only the second Black actress to win an Oscar when she took Best Supporting Actress for Ghost which also won Best Original Screenplay and was nominated for Best Picture.  Goldberg was the first to win since Hattie McDaniel in 1939’s Gone With The Wind. She also was upset about what she thought was the article’s attitude toward Swayze, intimating he should have done more movies like Ghost, rather than being shoehorned by Hollywood into action films. “It just is so crazy… his article sort of freaked me out in that I thought, well, how come? You know, how come (the writer)  was so flippant in talking about Patrick.  Patrick had a hell of a career,” she said.  “He was a movie star, and the guy kind of said, well, you know, they kept trying to make him an actor, and I’m thinking, who are you talking about, Patrick is a f***ing movie star, I mean, a movie star.”

I asked Goldberg if she thinks Ghost should be among those classic films suddenly lighting up what theatres and drive-ins are now open in this strange summer. “I hate to be an egotistical little thing, but I feel like I’ve been in several movies that should be in drive-ins, sort of renaissance of how to appreciate films.  Would it have been different if I had been short and cute and blond? Would it have been different, or am I looking at things from a perspective of today, you know?,” she asked.  “I just thought, it made me sad that he called us a movie that people forgot, or whatever. I thought, well, you’re the reason, because you’re treating it like it was something odd as opposed to a really great movie that came out of nowhere, and captured people’s imaginations, and we didn’t have a superhero.”

She was excited to hear however Paramount was bringing out the new Blu Ray for the anniversary and said she would order it, although I suggested that the studio would probably be more than happy to send her one (and probably to all the ladies of  The View).   And speaking of Hattie McDaniel, the star with whom she holds a unique place in Oscar history, I asked her what she thought about the beating Gone  With The Wind has been taking, especially after the dust-up when it was temporarily removed from HBO Max  due to issues involving what many, including screenwriter John Ridley in an L.A.Times opinion piece, felt were scenes that promoted outdated racial attitudes of the Antebellum South.

“You just want to say to people, listen, it is what it is. You know, keep it what it was. It’s not going to change. You can’t cut the scene. It’s ridiculous, you know? You say, this is what it was. There’s a lot of stuff that’s to explain why this was the prevailing attitude,  but you have to give people context, and I think in a world where context is an art form now because people don’t really recognize the reason for it, if you know why it’s happened that way, then you don’t make it happen again that way,” she said. “We want everybody to calm down. You can’t fix it all at one time. It’s going to take a while, and the key, I think, for everyone to remember is, whenever we talk about it, we have to talk about it as it was, as it is now, and how it will be. You know, you have to look forward to the change that’s coming, and cop to the fact that it’s slow.”

To that end Goldberg and Civil Rights attorney Bryan Stevenson ,  on whose book the recent Michael B. Jordan/Jamie Foxx film Just Mercy was based, will be participating in a talk called “The Power Of Narrative” for Motion Picture Academy members Tuesday at 11AM PT as part of the “Academy Dialogues: It Starts With Us ”  series of conversations about “race, ethnicity, history, opportunity, and the art of filmmaking”.  Goldberg was re-elected last month to a new term as Governor of AMPAS representing the Actors branch. She has been involved in bringing these issues to the leadership of the Academy as it continues its goals to diversify its membership and influence.

“Well, you know, the industry, as all industries, have to kind of go through it and look at the places where a better job could be done. We could do a lot better talking to people about different kinds of jobs we can do in movies, because not everybody needs to be an actor. Not everybody wants to be an actor. We can talk about design. We can talk about hair and makeup. We can talk about producing. There are so many other places where everyone can fit, but we have to just remind people of all the places that the Academy really takes care of, you know, screenwriters, and directors, and scenic design, and sound. You know, I want the Academy to sit with the union, and say, listen, we need you guys to pick up some of the slack, because you need to diversify all of the union, so that when we go on sets, we see lots of different people,” she said.

“And so, that’s one way that we can really sort of make some strides, and just making sure that people are writing stories, and people are casting people, that like Hamilton can teach folks a lot, not so much about the history, though it’s pretty accurate, but he wrote an amazing script, and he put actors in these roles, and you’re watching the show, and you forget. You think to yourself, wait a minute, Hamilton wasn’t black because you’re so riveted by what you’re watching, and the ability of the actors to pull off these parts so well, that you forget that the actors don’t look like the folks that they’re playing.”

And of course as for Goldberg herself you can continue to see her on The View daily on ABC often talking about these issues and more.  She likes stirring it up, and told me that doing it currently from the comfort of her own home is the perfect gig. “If we’ve made a mistake, we try to fix it. You know, if we’ve annoyed somebody, we don’t always try to fix it, but we don’t want to be non-factual. So, it’s good. You know, I’m happy to have a job right now.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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