Oprah Winfrey’s “tell-all” interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry aired on Sunday on CBS, and has quickly made its mark as the most-talked about television event this year. Drawing 17.1 million viewers in the United States alone, the channel claims it’s the “largest audience for any prime-time entertainment special so far this television season”.
The larger-than-life nature the interview has attained in the last two days is only in part due to it being the first interview Meghan and Harry have given since stepping down as senior members of the Royal Family last year. The other reason lies in the way that news sources and netizens have responded to the interview. “5 most shocking bombshells Meghan Markle dropped in Oprah interview”, one news source lists. “Meghan Markle reveals Kate Middleton ‘hurt her feelings’ during wedding!” another exclaims. “Prince Charles in ‘a state of despair’ after Meghan Markle interview” another brings to our attention.
An interview of a woman attempting to take back her narrative has been reduced to scandal and controversial headlines in the space of two days.
Markle’s Revelations Are More Than Just That – They Reflect Her Decision To Speak Out Against The Injustices She’s Faced
“I just want to make it clear to everybody: There’s no subject that’s off limits,” Oprah laid down at the beginning of the interview. And that truly seemed to be the case.
During the two hours, Markle, along with her husband, spoke candidly about her time at the palace.
Markle recalled during the interview that she was initially told by “The Firm” – interpreted by most as being the senior officials in the palace bureaucracy – that she “would be protected”. However, the constant and extreme vitriol Markle has been subjected to by the British tabloids and public, from the day she married into the Royal Family, without any official clarifications or retractions, seemed to say otherwise. Over the years, the smear campaign against her has only grown more hostile, and the silence from the Royals more deafening.
Markle went on to clarify some of the rumours and accusations that have been spread about her, including the widespread headline that she made Kate Middleton cry before her wedding – a rumour that sparked many months of the two women constantly being pitted against each other by the tabloids.
Markle asserted in the interview that the headlines were false, that an interaction with Middleton had, in fact, left Markle in tears before the wedding, that the two had patched up and all was forgiven – but that no attempts were made by the officials to clarify or retract the rumours.
(Trigger Warning: suicidal thoughts) In a moment of disarming honesty, Markle reveals that the hostility, lack of support from within the royal institution, and isolation made her go into a dark place emotionally. “I was ashamed to say it at the time, and ashamed to have to admit it to Harry, especially because I know how much loss he’s suffered,” Meghan said. “But I knew that if I didn’t say it, then I would do it. I just didn’t want to be alive anymore. That was a clear and real and frightening and constant thought.” When she spoke to a senior aide about how she was feeling, she was discouraged from seeking professional help.
During her pregnancy, while there were reports that Harry and Meghan had intentionally demanded that their baby not be given a royal title, the couple revealed that the decision wasn’t theirs. While they were given no official reason as to why their child would not receive a title, Meghan says that concerns were raised as to “how dark” their baby would be, and “what that would mean or look like”.
The conversation about race in the interview highlights the biggest criticism of the smear campaign against Markle, the first woman of colour to be a part of the Royal Family – that it stems from a space of persisting racism.
Markle Speaking Up Has Been Met With Support, But Also Inevitable And Unfortunate Vilification
Support has been pouring in for Markle for her honesty following the interview, from celebrities and the public alike.
However, the interview has, inevitably, caused an equal, if not louder, outcry from those it has irked.
“Dear old Megs, that perpetual victim” Maureen Callahan writes in a New York Post article titled ‘Meghan Markle’s interview was full of bull’. In a news report with Piers Morgan, who described Markle as “disingenuous”, Megyn Kelly labelled her “totally un-self-aware” of how she sounded. Closer to home, Simi Garewal tweeted, “I don’t believe a word Meghan says. Not a word. She is lying to make herself a victim. She is using the race card to gain sympathy. Evil.”
While no one outside the royal institution can say for certain that Markle’s revelations are in fact, facts (even though her husband validated everything she said during the interview), the flak seems to be directed not towards what was said, but toward the fact that it was said at all.
A woman speaking up against the injustices she’s faced and being honest about her experiences is still seen as her trying to victimise herself. A woman being open about her emotions is still “disingenuous”. A woman attempting to take back the narrative around who she is, is still seen as her being manipulative.
“That’s the sad irony of the last four years is I have advocated for so long for women to use their voice, and then I was silent,” Markle muses in the interview. Silent, or silenced, Oprah Winfrey, questioningly interjects. “The latter,” Markle admits.
The manner in which Markle’s words during the interview have been turned into scandalous news fodder, and the widespread criticism against her for what was said, and how it was said, runs the risk of ensuring that a legion of women in toxic environments will continue to fear using their voice, and will accept “the latter” as well. Here’s hoping that Markle’s display of courage in speaking her truth, wins against the reaction to it, in inspiring other women to do the same.
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