Days before the 82nd Academy Awards — a ceremony for which no African American actors, actresses or directors were nominated — a controversy is brewing about race and respect in Hollywood.
In an interview published Thursday, Mo’Nique — the comedian-turned-actress best known for her Oscar-winning role as a domineering mother in “Precious” (2010) — told Seth Abramovitch of the Hollywood Reporter that she was marginalized after she won her Academy Award because the industry views her as too demanding. And she implied — or, at least, some commentators inferred — that the industry thinks she is too demanding because she is black.
“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,” she said. “It should, and it normally does.”
However, five years after her Oscar, Mo’Nique, 47, said she routinely lost out on high-profile roles, comparing her plight to that of Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Academy Award. McDaniel played a maid in “Gone with the Wind” (1939) — and went on to play many more, eventually being denounced by the NAACP for “perpetuating negative stereotypes,” as the Hollywood Reporter put it.
“Hattie said, ‘After I won that award, it was as if I had done something wrong,'” Mo’Nique said. “It was the same with me.”
In the most controversial part of the interview, Mo’Nique alleged she was contacted by Lee Daniels — director of “Precious,” “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and creator of the new Fox hit “Empire” — who said she had been “blackballed” because she would not campaign for her Oscar, as is expected of stars during award season. She also said she was offered high-profile roles in Daniels’s projects — in “The Butler,” in “Empire,” and in an upcoming Richard Pryor biopic — that were “taken off the table” as a result of the blackball.
“I got a phone call from Lee Daniels maybe six or seven months ago,” Mo’Nique said. “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.’ ”
The actress linked her refusal to play by Hollywood’s rules to her humble roots.
“I’m a girl from Baltimore,” she said. “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.”
In a statement to the Hollywood Reporter, Daniels confirmed — politely — that Mo’Nique is, more or less, a pain.
“Mo’nique is a creative force to be reckoned with,” he said. “Her demands through Precious were not always in line with the campaign. This soured her relationship with the Hollywood community.”
But the conversation didn’t end there. In opinion pieces and on Twitter, some rallied to Mo’Nique’s defense — while some said her complaint was merely an example of her bad attitude.
“Black people know that not all of us are going to succeed in predominately white spaces and that, in order to be successful, we have to comfort and assuage whiteness and white gatekeepers,” essayist Morgan Jenkins wrote on the Guardian’s Web site in an article called “Mo’Nique won an Oscar, then got ‘blackballed’. Of course it’s about race.” “We can’t afford to be like Katherine Heigl and Megan Fox, who badmouthed their directors and stayed working.”
Jenkins went further.
“Mo’Nique wasn’t blackballed because she didn’t play ‘the game'; she was blackballed because she is both black and a woman, and she didn’t play the game,” the piece read.
Mo’Nique’s interviewer, for one, thinks people may be reading a bit too much into her comments.
“I wasn’t really getting a lot of race out of it,” Abramovitch told The Washington Post in a telephone interview. “I don’t think that was her issue. I think other people are putting that on it … for her, it was more that she doesn’t play by Hollywood’s rules, whatever those are in her own head.”
Abramovitch also said Mo’Nique’s — or Daniels’s — description of a “blackball” might be overblown. After all, Mo’Nique took home an Oscar for “Precious.” Even if she didn’t campaign for the award, why would Daniels or the industry care?
“They are both big personalities and big artists and sometimes that adds up to creative differences,” Abramovitch said.
One commentator said Mo’Nique can change the game if she doesn’t want it to change her. (Indeed, the actress and her husband just executive produced the movie “Blackbird” last year.)
“Mo’Nique is far from finished!” read a post on AllHipHop. “She just needs to re-adjust who she caters her talents to! These Hollywood haters don’t want the real!”
Some other responses:
Not a Monique fan but I know a lot about the black ball. It comes as a form of control but God is always in charge… http://t.co/cEhc1NYlxk
— Bossy Tionna Smalls (@TionnaSmalls) February 19, 2015
i feel like just saying you’ve been blackballed, can get you blackballed. The 1st rule of Fight Club…. — dwayne perkins (@funnydp) February 19, 2015
LRT. The “game” also exists at non-famous level. Black ppl, especially BW, who won’t “play the game” are also blackballed in jobs/media.
— Trudy (@thetrudz) February 19, 2015
I’m always quick to side-eye someone who claims they’ve been blackballed; usually those that have limited talent are the 1st to claim it — Jam Rockah (@jam_rockah) February 19, 2015