Oprah Filmed ‘American Dirt’ Panel in Tucson But It Didn’t Include “All Sides”


Late last month, we told you that Oprah Winfrey would be hosting a panel to discuss the controversy surrounding American Dirt. Now the iconic cultural figure was reportedly in Tucson, Arizona, yesterday taping the program, which will air in March on Apple TV. Some of those in the community were not thrilled to hear that the taping had excluded Latinx people who should have been on the panel expressing their views. 

American Dirt, an Oprah’s Book Club selection and now a New York Times Best Seller got significant pushback by Latinx authors and the Latinx community for its unrealistic portrayal of the current migrant issue at the border, the exploitation of the immigration issue, and the author of the book, Jeanine Cummins, who had previously said she wished someone “slightly browner than me would write it.”

Reports that Oprah was in Tucson came out on Twitter yesterday, and someone expressed they were again upset with Oprah for not including Latinx authors pertinent to the topic of American Dirt. It’s unclear if author Myriam Gurba who launched the backlash of the book late last year was at the event or not. She tweeted, “Lol! I was conceived in Tucson! I’ll leave figuring out the punchline to you, but it should definitely involve a word that starts with the letter F.” 

If she were there or not, she wouldn’t be able to say because people who attended the event were asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement. Presente.Org tweeted, “@Oprah @oprahsbookclub You announced that you would be using your powerful platform for book promotion to have a discussion between ‘all sides’ of the American Dirt disaster. Our question is: Who defines ‘all sides’ of this issue? #DignidadLiteraria.” 

In response to the book, a group of Latinx writers launched #DignidadLiteraria to discuss this misrepresentation of Latinx in books and the underrepresentation of Latinx in the publishing industry. Author David Bowels tweeted, “I know that [Oprah] gotten a bunch of people to record their tweets so the event will have ‘diverse voices.’ There will be guests on stage with her (including Cummins) expressing multiple viewpoints. I pray one of those is pushing for narrative justice, equity for Latinos.” He added, “The best we can hope for in terms of #DignidadLiteraria is that she doesn’t foment the tropes of white victimhood that paint Latinx folks as a violent, barbarian horde of censorship. That’s what [Cummins’ book publisher] did, letting everyone believe Cummins had received death threats.”

Journalist Esther J. Cepeda confirmed that the taping was indeed being filmed in Tucson. She tweeted, “Yes, I’m in Arizona now. We’re taping tomorrow. I was asked to bring my viewpoint to the conversation & I jumped at the chance to reiterate that the publishing industry has ignored Latinx authors + stories for far too long. #DignidadLiteraria.”

Representatives of Presente.org wrote a letter to Oprah asking her to have a proper discussion about the issue with them. “We are sending you one last invitation to join us on a mission of repair,” their statement reads. “We would ask that, at your earliest convenience, we arrange a private sit-down with the co-founders of our movement and representatives of Presente.org. It’s imperative that we discuss the ​actual problem: the continued underrepresentation of Latinx authors in publishing and in your highly influential book club.”

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