Mo’Nique’s Oscar-winning performance in Precious came from a dark place in her family history. Say what you will about the actress and the movie, her Academy Award victory caps the unlikely rise of a black woman who turned personal tragedy into professional triumph.
Well, Mo’Nique did it.
The movie, Precious, for which shefor supporting actress, may have made us uncomfortable, but doggonit, Mo’Nique did it.
The sadistic way in which she’d make Precious, played by fellow Oscar nominee Gabourey Sidibe, wait on her like a slave and tell her that she wouldn’t amount anything. The pain and rage in her bloodshot eyes as her chapped lips sipped a cigarette bud revealing yellowed teeth. Mo’Nique, who broke through showbiz as a foul-mouth standup comedian, was absolutely believable as a dramatic actor.
And I’m sure she believed the Oscar would come.
By now you know Precious, based on the novel Push, is about an illiterate teen mom who triumphs after having been abused by just about everyone. She’s ridiculed at school and in her neighborhood. Family life is even worse. Her young child and newborn are from her father, who raped her. Her mother is arguably the most abusive and least sympathetic character in the movie. This is the role Mo’Nique worked into an award-winning performance.
The movie caused a stir, even anger, because it, yet again, put on display a highly dysfunctional black family. Even C. Jeffrey Wright, CEO of UrbanFaith’s parent company, chimed in about what many viewed as the movie’s lopsided portrayal of African American life. During the Oscar Night edition of The Barbara Walters Special, which aired before the 82nd Academy Awards, Mo’Nique addressed this. Abuse is “colorless” and that the actors just happened to be black, she said.
True, abuse and other dysfunctions exist in families of all ethnicities and races, but black dysfunction is too common in movies and throughout the media. This gives the impression that dysfunction is the only state of the black family. I realize family hell sells better at the box office, so I’d settle for more positive black characters in these same movies. Write in a black doctor who has it together, or an honest black business owner.
Truthfully, there are few families that are not dysfunctional and this is what many of us spend our careers — our lives — trying to overcome.
Mo’Nique’s Oscar winning-performance came from a dark place within her family. She was abused as a child. During the Walters interview, Mo’Nique discussed the sexual abuse she endured at the hands of an older brother beginning around age 7. Fear kept her from telling their parents until about age 15. Her brother went on to abuse someone else, and served prison time.
Mo’Nique modeled her Precious character after him. She told Walters that the last time they spoke and were together was as adults while she was in the hospital after birthing twins. Visiting, her brother picked up and held one of the babies in his arms. Bad move. I can only imagine the rage the welled inside Mo’Nique. She wasn’t specific about the encounter, but must’ve torn into him. With therapy, and the help of her husband, Mo’Nique released the burden, she said.
Faith is about believing deeply in what you can’t see despite the reasons to doubt that are before you. You can’t please God without it. As Mo’Nique’s name was announced as the winner, she paused and then stood and composed herself before heading to the stage. In her acceptance speech, she invoked the late Hattie McDaniel, the first black woman to win an Oscar back in 1940, and alluded to the politics that typically go along with being nominated for an Academy Award — politics that Mo’Nique boldly refused to partake in. It was at once clear that this Oscar victory — and her involvement in Precious — was much bigger than just playing a role in a movie. As I watched, I thought about all those rough times she must’ve endured, and perhaps, like Precious, how she might’ve wanted to give up. How Mo’Nique must’ve willed herself to focus not on the immediate trials in her personal life and career, but on the future rewards she envisioned.
You may not like her opinions or lifestyle choices, but Mo’Nique did it. She kept the faith.
“To every last person that celebrates a victory of being abused, and you can stand baby, congratulations,” she said backstage to the thank you cam. “…To the whole world I simply say I thank you and let’s start loving again, unconditionally.”
Now that’s a storyline we ought to be comfortable with.