Oprah Winfrey’s new documentary, The Color of Care, premiered on the Smithsonian Channel on May 1, 2022. The documentary takes a hard look at the racial disparities toward people of color (POC) in the U.S. healthcare system—both past and present. Through the lens of COVID-19, the film uses testimony from frontline medical workers, experts, data, and first-hand accounts of the impact of the pandemic, to paint a holistic picture of the toll inequality takes on our society.
“People of color have long endured the fatal consequences of racial health disparities and the Covid-19 pandemic made these inequalities plain for all to see.” said Smithsonian executive producer James Blue in a statement. “I hope our documentary event, The Color of Care, will be a catalyst for action.”
While executive producer, Oprah Winfrey is not new to producing, The Color of Care is her first feature-length documentary (though there were reports of a Sidney Poitier doc which appears to still be in the works). The project is more than a film for Winfrey, as she intends for it to bring about real change.
“It’s a moment to ignite a cultural conversation around this public health crisis, and … to move the conversation forward because there’s so many people who aren’t even aware that this is what is happening,” Winfrey said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press.
If you missed the premiere and want to learn more about the film and the Color of Care campaign, check out our list of the 5 things you should know.
‘The Color of Care’ is Inspired by Gary Fowler’s Story
Gary Fowler was a 56-year-old father who died of COVID-19 after he was turned away several times from three different hospitals in March 2020. Fowler’s story and that of his family are what inspired the idea for the documentary. When Winfrey read the story of Gary Fowler, first published in the Detroit Free Press, she said his story and the image of Fowler’s son, Keith Gambrell “haunted” her.
“At the height of the pandemic, I read something that stopped me in my tracks,” said Winfrey in a statement. “I read a story about Gary Fowler, a Black man who died in his home because no hospital would treat him despite his Covid-19 symptoms. As we continued to hear how the racial disparities in our country were exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic, I felt something needed to be done. This film is my way of doing something, with the intention that the stories we share serve as both a warning and foster a deeper understanding of what changes need to take place to better serve us all.”
Oprah Hopes the Film Will Shed a Light on U.S. Racial Health Disparities
With this documentary, Winfrey hopes to enlighten viewers on the systemic racial health inequalities in this country. What’s lost on so many Americans is that racial and economic disparities in the medical world have long been documented and continue to persist today. Implicit bias and racism in the medical field can result in some people not receiving the same level of care as others. And this can too often lead to poor mental health, poor physical health, and even death. The Coronavirus has only heightened the need for more racial equity in the U.S. healthcare system.
“I am here to do what we really wanted to do with this film is to let people know that it’s more than just one film, it’s a moment to ignite a vital cultural conversation around this public health crisis.” Winfrey told the Los Angeles Times. “So it’s not just about the film. For me, it’s the Color of Care impact campaign, it’s a way to move this conversation forward, and actually champion some changes to hopefully eliminate racial disparities in the delivery of U.S. healthcare.”
‘The Color of Care’ Features Families Who Lost Loved Ones to COVID-19
In addition to interviews with frontline medical workers and experts in their field, the documentary gives a voice to individuals who’ve lost loved ones to the Coronavirus. These first-hand testimonies by family members and friends are intended to put a face to the countless number of people that passed as a result of the pandemic. It can be difficult to fully recognize the toll of these losses when we are bombarded with so much death on the daily. And this apathy towards what we’ve lost as a country is one of the things Winfrey wants to address in her film.
“I don’t recognize a country where you’ve lost nearly a million people and there hasn’t been some form of remembering that is significant,” Winfrey told the Los Angeles Times. “Who are we that there is no acknowledgment, profoundly, in our society that we have lost our loved ones?
It's Both a Documentary and a Campaign for Change
The documentary is more than just a film, it’s also an educational campaign to put forward solutions toward U.S. health equality. According to the film’s description, “The Color of Care education campaign will work to prepare current and future doctors, nurses and medical professionals to play an active role in combating systemic racism in the delivery of healthcare, as well as provide others with the necessary tools to address this issue and advocate for and empower patients who experience these inequities.” The campaign also intends to work with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Black leadership communities to help further empower them into taking action to address the issues at hand.
‘The Color of Care’ is a Labor of Love Achieved Through Several Partnerships
A lot of work went into the project, and it brought together an assortment of partnerships. The Color of Care is produced by Harpo Productions with executive producers Oprah Winfrey, Terry Wood, and Catherine Cyr. The film is directed by Oscar-nominated and Emmy award-winning director Yance Ford, with producer Kate Bolger. James Blue and Tim Evans are executive producers for Smithsonian Channel, with Najma Nurridin acting as producer.
Partners with Color of Change and Winfrey include Paramount’s Content for Change, Picture Motion Campaigns, The Association of American Medical Colleges, PBS Newshour Classroom, and Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Greenwood Initiative.