I thought the story would go away, but every day there’s a new twist in the Mo’Nique-Lee Daniels Blackball Saga. It began with a Hollywood Reporter exclusive interview with Mo’Nique. The actress, whose chilling portrayal of the physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive mother in Precious won her widespread acclaim and an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, said that despite her success, the offers weren’t rolling in.
She then detailed that in a telephone conversation, director Lee Daniels said she’d been “blackballed.”
“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 Hollywood Reporter
Lee Daniels addressed the accusations in an interview with Don Lemon. The discourse raised eyebrows, especially as one of the most prolific African American gay men threw the troubling and fictional term “reverse racism” in the mix. This, from the director of The Butler.
Mo’Nique responded the next day on the same program.
There’s four sides to every story: his, hers, the truth, and perception. And my perception is that, during the 2010 Precious hype, Mo’Nique challenged a rigorously structured power dynamic without a game plan, an arsenal, allies, or experience.
Let’s circle back: the year is 2010, and Precious ruptured the predictable entertainment world. Based on the illustrious novel Push, we wondered how a work centered on viciously visual rape and incest scenes, told through an illiterate narrative delivered by a complicated protagonist whose obesity and teenage motherhood are a direct socioeconomic result of abuse, neglect, poverty, and an enduring lack of self esteem.
As a Black woman slowly coming into my pro-Black politic, I anxiously hoped the movie would throughly exhilarate an agonizing tale of growth and self-love. And it did. The movie did justice to one of the greatest works of Black literature of all time.
I was excited to see newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, whose physical body is in stark refutation of the fatigued and overused Eurocentric standard of glamor and beauty, get positive shine.
And I was especially thrilled for Mo’Nique. I hoped this would lead to an end of her being typecast as the loudmouth ghetto broad with no sense. I was excited for the global attention she received, and her cultural validation as a sincere, cogent, and brilliant actress. I was thrilled when she got a talk show on BET, a platform that showcased her vibrantly dynamic personality.
And then, out of nowhere, she was gone. Show cancelled. No big screen roles. No press. No attention. I chalked it up to Hollywood; she’s Black, older, and heavyset; three strikes in a horrifically competitive industry hellbent on preserving Eurocentrism.
But to know that a Black man aided in her impediment, is just heartbreaking. As a Black gay man, Daniels understands what oppression means, especially in the entertainment industry. It’s unclear the extent to which Daniels had a hand in the blackballing. But, just from perception, I’m sure he was active. Mo’Nique recounts that she had offers to appear in The Butler, Empire, and an upcoming Richard Pryor biopic (all projects created or inspired by Daniels), but the offers were pulled.
But, Mo’Nique took risks – and those risks didn’t pay off. Her strategy was shortsighted, and, already an industry misfit, her strategic myopia made it easier to alienate her. Not doing promo for Precious was a HUGE strategic mistake. Not attending Cannes Film Festival, was a MAJOR strategic mistake. And while I understand that motherhood and her talk show were priorities, the risks taken to preserve these endeavors, didn’t pay off.
The tug-of-war of motherhood and professional advancement in entertainment, especially with a racial lens, is a separate article. I will not go into those nuances here, but know that I have contextual insight about such a framework as well.
But it seems like her strategic vision is getting clearer. Her upcoming independent film Blackbird is due out April 24th, and I don’t think it’s happenstance that now she’s speaking publicly about her relationship with Daniels, whose Empire is reverberating across the atmosphere in ratings and popularity.
From a public relations standpoint, Mo’Nique isn’t coming across as a scorned or bitter lover; she’s speaking her truth in a manner that inspires sympathy, not division. Learning from past failures, her strategizing has sharpened.
I will support her in her new work, and hope that she channels these learning lessons not just in her acting, but in her business savvy.
*Feature Credit Image: The Film Stage