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Ellen DeGeneres Makes History at the Oscars and in China

Ellen DeGeneres is joined by movie stars for a selfie at the Academy Awards.
Ellen DeGeneres is joined by movie stars for a selfie at the Academy Awards.
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Welcome to American Mosaic from VOA Learning English.

I’m June Simms.

Last week, the show was all about the Oscars. This week we talk about the host of that ceremony, comedian Ellen DeGeneres. She broke an Internet record last Sunday and she’s making history in China too.

Then, we tell about a museum in Virginia that helps tell the story of slavery in America and now has an Academy Award connection.

"We Crashed And Broke Twitter"

Sunday night, Ellen DeGeneres hosted the Academy Awards in Los Angeles, California. It is Hollywood’s top awards event and many entertainers hope to be asked to host. Jim Tedder tells us how DeGeneres did and about her new broadcasts in China.

Ellen DeGeneres has to be pleased with her Oscar performance last week. She did exactly what producers ask for --- bring in a big television audience without creating any societal debates. Last year, Academy Awards host Seth MacFarlane made jokes about female body parts than many people did not find funny.

DeGeneres as host won a larger television crowd. A reported 43 million people watched the broadcast. That is two-and-a-half million more people than 2013. DeGeneres also stuck mainly to her style of warm and friendly humor instead of insulting jokes. One exception may be a comment she made early in the show. She suggested that singer/actress and ceremony attendee Liza Minelli looked like a man trying to look like a woman.
Show host Ellen DeGeneres gives out pizza at the Academy Awards.
Show host Ellen DeGeneres gives out pizza at the Academy Awards.

DeGeneres also made a move that was very popular among Oscar goers. She ordered pizza for several of the actors and other moviemakers in the audience. Actors Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Lawrence were among the pizza eaters. Director Martin Scorsese also took a piece.

Although many in the crowd laughed, the pizza was also eaten up quickly. The Oscars ceremony has a strong rule barring any food from the event. Those who attend get very hungry. Few people have much time to eat before the event. It takes most attendees hours to fix their hair and makeup, and dress for the event.

Then, stars must take their time walking the so called “red carpet” into the Dolby Theater where the ceremony takes place. Fans, photographers and members of the press line the carpet. All expect, and get, attention from the Oscar goers. So by the end of the ceremony most people have not eaten in many hours.

But the most talked about moment that night in Los Angeles had to be Ellen DeGeneres’ “selfie.” A selfie is a picture one takes of oneself for placement on the internet. Ellen DeGeneres took her smart phone out into the audience. She got close to actor Bradley Cooper and asked others to join in for the selfie. Lots of stars jumped into the picture including some 2014 Oscar winners, like Jared Leto and Lupita N’yongo.

Ellen DeGeneres then posted the photo to Twitter. The post was retweeted more than two million times within hours. Later, in the show, DeGeneres excitedly told the crowd: “We got an email from Twitter and we crashed and broke Twitter. We have made history.”

Many television critics have noted that the phone DeGeneres used for the selfie photograph was a new Samsung. Samsung was a major corporate supporter of the Oscars.

Ellen DeGeneres made Twitter history last Sunday. She is also making broadcast history in China. Her popular daily television talk show now can be seen in China. American and Chinese companies jointly announced the move in January.

People can watch “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” on the Chinese online video service Sohu Video 48 hours after it is shown in the United States. The service shows it with Chinese subtitles.

VOA recently spoke about the news with Larry Namer. He is the head of a company that makes television shows to be shown in China. He also created the E! Entertainment Television channel. He told us many American television programs can now be seen in China.

“We’ve been there for about five years now. We’ve seen what’s called an opening up, of the new acceptance of other countries, and we think it’s just continuing the trend that we’ve been noticing. It’s not really all that surprising for us quite honestly.”

Mr. Namer believes Ms. DeGeneres will be successful in China.

“There are certainly cultural differences between American culture and Chinese culture. I wouldn’t profess myself to be an avid follower of the Ellen show, although I do watch it on occasion when I’m in the US. But a lot of her stuff seems to deal with human values and feelings and I think her stuff is pretty universal. My gut feel is that it will do rather well there. I think a lot of Chinese people will be able to relate to her and what she talks about.”

I’m Jim Tedder in Washington.

Slavery Museum Linked to Oscar Winning Movie

“Twelve Years A Slave” is based on the writings of Solomon Northup. It won the 2014 Academy Award for best motion picture.

Scene from Academy Award winning movie '12 Years a Slave.'
Scene from Academy Award winning movie '12 Years a Slave.'
Mr. Northup was captured and sold into slavery in 1841. His kidnapper was a well-known slave trader named James Birch.

Mr. Birch owned property in Alexandria, Virginia where he would imprison the men, women and children before their sale. The large property was called a slave pen.

Today, all that remains of the slave pen is one building. It has been turned into a museum about slavery. At the Freedom House Museum visitors get a close look at what slaves experienced.

Julian Kiganda is the supervisor of the museum. She says she cannot imagine how the captured felt about the possibility of never seeing their families again.

“Seeing that African-Americans had experienced on a regular basis, the separation of family. That for me was just so heartbreaking.”

Most of the slaves picked tobacco on local farms. They were also sold to cotton farmers farther south.

Audrey Davis is the head of Alexandria’s Black History Museum. She says slaves came from many different places.

“They were coming from a variety of places, and then being held in the slave pens until they were shipped out, or until someone was buying them directly from the pen, and then they would be brought out for inspection.”

James Birch’s slave pen was one of the most profitable in the country. There was a kitchen, an eating area, a hospital and a space for exercise.

The traders knew that slaves who looked healthy would sell for higher prices. Ms. Kiganda says some traders would even give slaves new clothes.

“The tailor shop would create the clothes that the slaves would wear at the market so they would look expensive. The slaves, they would actually try to get rid of these clothes as soon as they could because they did not want to be reminded of being sold at market.”

Ms. Kiganda says slaves were sold for as much as four times what the traders had paid for them.

“People would pay 1200 dollars for a slave, back in those days, which is the equivalent of almost 30,000 dollars in today’s money.”

Jacquelyn Nordorf visited the museum from California. She says it is scary to imagine slaves crowded against the museum walls.

“It saddens me but it is our history. It was scary to be in a place where the slaves were actually kept and these people were sold for their lives.”

The victims were chained together and shipped to markets in North America. Sometimes after sale they were forced to walk long distances to farms.

Visitors to the Freedom House Museum are permitted to touch the slave chains. Ms. Kiganda explains why.

“We felt it was important for people to have the ability to actually feel these things and feel the reality of what happened here.”

The Northern Virginia chapter of the Urban League owns the building. The Urban League is an organization that works to empower African-Americans. Cynthia Dinkins is the Chief Executive Officer of the chapter.

Ms. Dinkins says she and other workers feel the presence of the dead in the museum. Ms. Dinkins says they have seen and heard things they cannot explain.

“I felt something brush against me, but I didn’t feel threatened at all. And they’re like, oh no, yes, yes, we’ve experienced things like that, doors opening and closing, footsteps.”

The slave pen was closed during the American civil war. The city of Alexandria surrendered to U.S. government soldiers in 1861. The slave pen was turned into a prison used to jail disobedient government soldiers and rebel soldiers who were captured.

I’m June Simms. Our program was written and produced by Caty Weaver.

Do you have a question about American life, people or places? Send an e-mail to We might answer your question in a future show. You can also visit our website at to find transcripts and audio of our shows.

Ellen DeGeneres is known for her love of popular music. She’s quite the dancer too. We leave you with a song from “Ellen’s Playlist.”

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