Barack Obama is inaugurated as US president
after having defeated Republican nominee John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. Obama is the first African American to hold the office

No official count is taken of the number of people attending the inaugural ceremony. According to multiple sources, the ceremony has the largest audience of any event ever held in Washington, D.C. Government agencies and federal officials, who coordinate security and traffic management, estimate the attendance count to be 1.8 million people.

Celebrity guests include Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé Knowles, and Steven Spielberg – who is among the donators giving $50,000, the maximum that Obama’s inaugural committee would allow. 

For the ceremony, John Williams composes, and arranges the quartet Air and Simple Gifts (videoclip), performed by Yo Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Anthony McGill, and Gabriela Montero.

In his first few days in office, Obama issues executive orders and presidential memoranda directing the U.S. military to develop plans to withdraw troops from Iraq. He orders the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp (but Congress prevents the closure by refusing to appropriate the required funds and preventing moving any Guantanamo detainee into the U.S. or to other countries).

In his speech at Cairo University in Egypt, Obama calls for “A New Beginning” in relations between the Islamic world and the United States and promotes Middle East peace.


Spielberg watches Whoopi Goldberg perform in a Broadway show and immediately casts her as Celie, the lead role in his screen adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple. The cast includes such fine actors as Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey and Margaret Avery.

In his ambitious film, Spielberg tackles a variety of delicate issues such as domestic violence and incest among African-Americans, lesbianism, religion, and racism during the early 1900s – which is a bold departure from his previous series of mainstream blockbuster movies. 

Spielberg on his motivation to do the film: 

The big difference in The Color Purple is that the story is not larger than the lives of these people (…) I didn’t want to make another movie that dwarfs the characters. But here, the characters are the story.” … “I really wanted to challenge myself with something that was not stereotypically a Spielberg movie.” … “It’s as if I’ve been swimming in water up to my waist all my life -and I’m great at it – but now I’m going into the deep section of the pool.”

Spielberg’s achievement is not to be underestimated, considering Alice Walker’s novel is told in a series of letters. Screenwriter Menno Meyjes does an incredible job of translating them into a cinematic plot while maintaining the novel‘s essence. Cinematographer Allen Daviau masters the challenge of combining harsh reality with poetic imagery. 

The Color Purple is a surprise hit at the box office and receives mostly positive reviews. As expected, the film causes  a lot of controversy, but opens the door to more films like this – plus a Broadway musical.

Filmmaker Oliver Stone calls Spielberg’s adapation of Walker’s novel “an excellent movie, and it was an attempt to deal with an issue that had
been overlooked, and it wouldn’t have been done if it hadn’t been
Spielberg. And it’s not like everyone says, that he ruined the book.
That’s horseshit. Nobody was going to do the book. He made the book live again

The film gets eleven Academy Award nominations, none for its director, and goes away empty-handed – not the first but the heaviest slap Spielberg receives by the Academy. For consolation (and for the first time), Spielberg gets the DGA Award from the Directors Guild of America.

Co-star Oprah Winfrey (who was raped aged nine in real life) is the first woman who, after her incredible performance in The Color Purple, produces her own talk show, the
highest-rated program of its kind in history.

Due to the film’s topics Spielberg chooses to replace his master composer John Williams by Quincy Jones who creates a brilliant score featuring jazz, ragtime, gospel, African music and blues. Spielberg can be heard whistling the main cue on the soundtrack.