On Friday night, Oprah Winfrey hosted a swanky celebration for “Lawmen: Bass Reeves” executive producer and star David Oyelowo at the Sunset Tower Hotel in West Hollywood.
Photographers lined the driveway of the iconic hotel while a who’s who of Hollywood — including Gayle King, Lupita Nyong’o, Niecy Nash-Betts and the cast of the hit Paramount+ series — posed in front of a black and gold backdrop. Inside the luxurious venue, even more stars — like Macro chief Charles D. King, Yvonne Orji, O-T Fagbenle, Anna Diop, Edwina Findley, Mykelti Williamson, Mo McRae, Eugene Ashe, Deon and Roxanne Taylor — mixed and mingled as the party took over the whole of the bar and pool area on a windy, yet starry night in Los Angeles. The affair felt more like a family reunion than an industry function, with Oyelowo was joined by his wife (and Yoruba Saxon producing partner) Jessica Oyelowo and their children Asher, Zoe and Penuel.
The only wrinkle was that it all could’ve happened at Winfrey’s house.
About a month and a half ago, Oyelowo called Winfrey — his co-star in “The Butler” and “Selma,” turned close friend — to ask a favor. When “Bass Reeves” debuted on Paramount+ on Nov. 5, the SAG-AFTRA strike was still four days away from ending. This meant that Oyelowo (who stars as the legendary lawman who escaped enslavement to become one of the first Black U.S. Deputy Marshals west of the Mississippi) and the ensemble cast (including Lauren E. Banks, Demi Singleton, Forrest Goodluck, Tosin Morohunfola, Justin Hurtt-Dunkley and Shea Whigham) were still marching the picket lines instead of walking the red carpet.
There hadn’t been a proper chance to celebrate, not even to “raise a glass,” Winfrey said, slipping into a version of Oyelowo’s British accent as she recounted the conversation. “Mum O,” Oyelowo had said, using a name that only he (her “son child”) is allowed to call her. “Would it be okay if a few friends came to your house?”
“To my house, did you say?” Winfrey replied. “Actually, I would’ve loved to have you all at my house. But I said, ‘David, nobody wants to drive all the way to Santa Barbara to my house.’” (The crowd disagreed, breaking into cries of “I would’ve.”)
While Winfrey might’ve underestimated the miles guests would be willing drive, she was adamant that Oyelowo not shortchange the achievement. “If you’re going to ‘raise a glass,’ let’s raise lots of glasses,” Winfrey said. “So, we’re all here to raise a few glasses in honor of David, Yoruba Saxon and the vision this man has held for a decade for ‘Bass Reeves.’ It has come to fruition and it is the number one premiering series on Paramount+!”
In a matter of fortuitous timing, the cocktail party was held just hours after Paramount Global reported that the anthology series had become the streamer’s most-watched series premiere globally. According to Nielsen, the first two episodes attracted a collected 7.5 million viewers in its first 7 days across Paramount+ and a special CBS airing on Nov. 12, following an episode of “Yellowstone.” (“Bass Reeves” is executive produced by “Yellowstone” universe titan Taylor Sheridan.)
As the crowd cheered the ratings news, Winfrey concluded her remarks, praising Oyelowo as a “lovely person, lovely human being, such a giving, gracious human being. I am so glad that he is receiving the rewards of his labor.”
Oyelowo then took the stage, grasping Winfrey’s hand so she couldn’t escape the spotlight or his heartfelt thanks.
“Over a decade ago, we played mother and son, and you have been there for me ever since,” he began. “Two months before we started shooting ‘Selma,’ my mum had a brain aneurysm and she went into a vegetative state, a state in which she stayed for three years before she eventually passed away. And it was the hardest thing I have ever been through.”
He was still in a state of deep grief when the time came to begin filming “Selma,” where he’d portray Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a movie which his mother prayed into being. It was to be his “greatest moment,” but his mother was not there to share it with him in person
“That night of the first day of filming I was sat in my house in Atlanta on my own — lost, bereft, just broken — and I get a call and it’s Mum O and she said ‘How you doing?’” Oyelowo said, mimicking her voice. “She asked me how the day had gone, and the most precious moment — I’m a grown man, you know— was when she said, “Time to go to bed.” Oyelowo paused, fighting tears as he looked at Winfrey, then continued.
“You’ve been an incredible mother to me, an incredible advocate for me,” he said. “The first time we had a conversation in New Orleans while we were shooting ‘The Butler,’ you talked about how Quincy Jones and Sidney Poitier had been there for you and you said ‘I see something in you. … I am going to be what they were for me to you.’ She made good on that promise. She saw in me what I didn’t see in me yet.”
The emotion of the moment continued as Oyelowo looking out at the crowd of collaborators and close compatriots — all of whom showed up not to rub shoulders with Winfrey, but to support his hard-fought vision. It’d been a long road: he and Sheridan took the project out to market twice, only to be turned down by every studio. In some ways, this party was both an instance of celebration and vindication, so Oyelowo thanked his supporters, including “Bass Reeves” creator and executive producer Chad Feehan and 101 Studios’ David Glasser, and shouted out his cast, especially the young Black actors getting the type of global platform that had been rare while he was coming up.
Oyelowo saved his final words for his family, calling his wife Jessica up to the stage, where she clasped hands with Winfrey. “Look at these ladies. How blessed am I?” Oyelowo said.
With that, it was party time and Winfrey, the Oyelowo family and the “Bass Reeves” crew hit the dance floor. Even though the DJ eventually stopped spinning on Friday night, it’s a weekend of celebration, with Winfrey set to be honored with the the Pillar Award — which acknowledges exemplary leadership and support for the Academy Museum — at the 2023 Academy Museum Gala on Sunday night.
Episodes 1-6 of “Lawmen: Bass Reeves” are now streaming on Paramount+. The series is produced by MTV Entertainment Studios, 101 Studios, Sheridan’s Bosque Ranch Productions and Oyelowo’s Yoruba Saxon and is distributed by Paramount Global Content Distribution outside of Paramount+ international markets.
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