In a rather revealing interview she gave to The Hollywood Reporter, which was published this morning, Mo’Nique dishes on the criticism she faced for her role in “Precious,” what life after Oscar has been like, in terms of opportunities and income, and discovering that she’d been blacklisted! Why? The actress herself isn’t entirely certain, based on the interview, but suggests potential reasons based on what others, including her “Precious” director, Lee Daniels, told her.
To wit: “What I understood was that when I won that Oscar, things would change in all the ways you’re saying: It should come with more respect, more choices and more money. It should, and it normally does […] I got a phone call from Lee Daniels maybe six or seven months ago. And he said to me, “Mo’Nique, you’ve been blackballed.” And I said, “I’ve been blackballed? Why have I been blackballed?” And he said, “Because you didn’t play the game.” And I said, “Well, what game is that?” And he gave me no response. The next thing he said to me was, “Your husband is outbidding you.” But he never asked me what [salary] we were asking for. You know, my husband and I had to change things so we wouldn’t have to depend on [others]. So we do it independently. We’re very proud of taking the independent route, and we have a movie coming out on April 24 called Blackbird.”
The interviewer digs a little further, asking if she knew what Daniels meant exactly by her being blackballed, and she said: “You know what I learned? Never to think what somebody else was thinking. That’s a question you would have to ask Lee Daniels. There have been people that have said, “Mo’Nique, she can be difficult. Mo’Nique and her husband can be difficult.” They could probably be right. One of the networks said to [Lee] that I was “really difficult to work with.” And I said, “Well, that’s funny, because I’ve never even worked with them, but OK.” Whoever those people are who say, “Mo’Nique is difficult,” those people are either heartless, ruthless or treat people like they’re worthless. And that’s unacceptable. They’re set to say, “Mo’Nique is tactless, she’s tacky.” That’s why I have my beautiful husband, because he’s so full of tact, ’cause I’m a girl from Baltimore. I come from a blue-collar town — and being from that place, you learn not to let anybody take advantage of you. You don’t let people mistreat you. You stand up for what’s right. So I can’t answer why he said I was blackballed. There may be people that feel that way about me. But I respect everyone, from the homeless brother and sister on the street to the executive that sits in the highest office named President Barack Obama. I respect everyone — but we over-respect no one.”
Essentially, she didn’t kiss anyone’s ass, and charted her own course, in an industry in which ass-kissing, kowtowing, not being controversial, and blending in (especially if you’re black), is a way of life.
Although, THR did eventually reach out to Lee Daniels for a response, and he said the following: “Mo’nique is a creative force to be reckoned with. Her demands through Precious were not always in line with the campaign. This soured her relationship with the Hollywood community. I consider her a friend. I have and will always think of her for parts that we can collaborate on. However, the consensus among the creative teams and powers thus far were to go another way with these roles.”
What roles is he referring to? Apparently, she was initially offered the role in “The Butler” that Oprah Winfrey played. She was also approached by the producers of “Empire” to appear on that hit series (although she doesn’t share in what capacity). And she was offered the role as Richard Pryor’s grandmother in Lee Daniels’ upcoming Richard Pryor biopic, a role that also went to Oprah Winfrey.
“Each of those things that he offered me was taken off the table,” Mo’Nique said. “They all just went away. But that’s just part of the business, you know? I can’t be upset at anybody, ’cause life is too good. It’s just what it is.”
She also talks about her Hattie McDaniel project, which has been in limbo for the past 6 years or more, but doesn’t offer much for us to chew on.
Regarding her being blacklisted, I recall that she was practically crucified in the mainstream press for not playing the “Oscar campaign game” (an Oscar she eventually won anyway).
But, as I’ve previously noted on this blog, there’s been a growing resentment of the Oscar campaign process by more and more Hollywood artists, who are “fed up with the parade of glad-handing that has come to define the fall-to-winter awards season,” as GoldDerby.com put it 2 years ago, the last time I wrote about this; the countless events, appearances, interviews, and receptions that are apparently expected from those who hope to make the nominations short lists, as well as win the coveted statue.
For example, during the awards season last year, Michael Fassbender joined the chorus, stating firmly in a GQ interview that he wouldn’t be campaigning for an Oscar nomination for his much-ballyhooed performance in “12 Years A Slave.”
You might recall similar previous statements from others before him, made during recent awards seasons:
– David Cronenberg: “Every year I try to be as disconnected as possible… The people who are releasing the movie get excited, they want you to do more, and you understand it because the awards can maybe get more people to see the film… However, it is all bullshit, it is all annoying and it is all very problematical.”
– Joaquin Phoenix: “I think it’s total, utter bullshit, and I don’t want to be a part of it … It was one of the most uncomfortable periods of my life when ‘Walk the Line’ was going through all the awards stuff and all that. I never want to have that experience again.”
– Anthony Hopkins called the process “disgusting.”
– Matt Damon: “It’s ridiculous … We had Harvey Weinstein with us for ‘Good Will Hunting,’ and he’s the guy who really sees the matrix when it comes to this stuff and I think we did a cocktail party. That was it … It’s been really shocking to me to see what’s happened [since], and not all good.”
And there’s more… but you get the gist.
Maybe one obvious point to note is that these dissenters were all white and male. Could that be something worth considering in all this? The privilege to be able to make these kinds of statements publicly, and seemingly not be censured for doing so – at least, from where I’m sitting. Certainly not as much as Mo’Nique was in 2009/2010.
In response to Fassbender’s refusal to play the Oscar campaign game, his “12 Years A Slave” director, Steve McQueen backed his actor, stating, “His campaign is on screen. That’s Michael Fassbender’s Oscar campaign. He’s done his thing. That’s it.”
Mo’Nique said pretty much the same thing when she was nominated, but that didn’t help her cause very much.
I recall an article on Vanity Fair’s website, written by Mark Olsen, with the title – “Oscars: The Mo’Nique Problem” – which should clue you in to what was contained within it.
I’ve yet to see any pieces titled “Oscars: The Michael Fassbender Problem,” nor did I see anything of the sort for any of the other above actors after they made their feelings about the campaign process known, and during years that they were up for nominations.
Journalist Jeffrey Wells (who writes the popular industry Hollywood Elsewhere blog) was a key figure in the anti-Mo’Nique campaign at the time. As I recall, he was quite relentless; it practically became personal to him, and one could only scratch one’s head in wonderment. Even if you’re one of those who wasn’t at all impressed with Mo’Nique’s performance in “Precious,” how much ink is necessary to spell out that displeasure? At some point, it becomes ridiculous, and your motivation will be questioned. So, Wells shouldn’t have been surprised when many called him a racist – something he took issue with.
In the Vanity Fair article, Wells was quoted several times, using some of his more caustic attacks on Mo’Nique. Specifically, here’s a sample: “As for Mo’Nique herself, she’s a genuine primitive… Or so I think. Did she pretend not to understand the financial benefits of an Oscar race during that talk-show chat or is she really that thick? I thought her [Golden Globe] acceptance speech felt acted and lacked class. I thought her ‘talk to my husband’ reply to Tom O’Neil was major chickenshit. And the hairy legs thing was just astounding. Has an Oscar contending actress ever been on the red carpet with visible Yeti hair on her calves?… Mo’Nique’s spotty campaign and the certainty of her winning the Oscar is proof that you don’t have to campaign as much as most publicists think you have to… IF you’re the only real standout in your category and IF you’ve got every critics group going ‘baaaah!’ and giving you a win almost every time at bat. Plus there was never a strong Mo’Nique alternative choice. I found her performance and personality genuinely unappealing. Which of course makes me a racist. Naturally. END.”
Of course, many found his “genuine primitive” line very problematic, to start.
Further, from Mark Olsen’s article: “Mo’Nique seems to challenge, consciously or not, the very foundation of how a sleek, supplicating awards-season actress should look or behave.”
As I said at the time, I’m a sucker for anyone challenging the status quo. And if anything, her presence and her approach actually invigorated a ritualistic awards season that may have been rather dull, not-so unlike previous seasons. And I’m sure there are those Hollywood players who were and still are secretly applauding her in private, even though they may have been lambasting her in public, or didn’t say anything at all.
The Vanity Fair article ended, stating, “Mo’Nique will go on to win the Oscar… but she’s ticked off a lot of people along the way – people who may have a chance to pay her back someday.”
And maybe her blacklisting since then is that “payback” the VF piece refers to; the fact that she really didn’t appear in anything after “Precious” (until now, anyway, starring in Patrick-Ian Polk’s indie drama “Blackbird”), and her BET talk-show was canceled.
In a post-Oscar interview, on whether her Academy Award win will give her career a bounce, and if she felt intimidated, Mo’Nique said: “I am the highest-paid woman in the history of this network [BET]. That was before the Oscar. I’m a New York Times bestseller. That was before the Oscar. If I take that one trophy and base my entire career on it, I think God would say, ‘Are you serious?’ They say it should change my career somehow. We’ll see… I get intimidated at the top of the rollercoaster before it comes down from the top and I feel myself coming up in my seat and want to make sure the bar is tight around my waist. But I’m not intimidated by anything in this business.”
Read the full interview she gave to The Hollywood Reporter here.
UMC – Urban Movie Channel, an RLJ Entertainment brand, created by Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), will release Patrik-Ian Polk’s coming-of-age drama “Blackbird,” which is based on the novel by the same name by Larry Duplechan, on April 24, 2015. The film stars Mo’Nique, Isaiah Washington, Terrell Tilford, D. Woods, Gary L. Gray, Torrey Laamar, Kevin Allesee, Nikki Jane and introduces breakthrough talent Julian Walker.