In 2010, with her hair adorned by gardenia to honor Hattie McDaniel, Mo’Nique won Best Supporting Actress for her gut-wrenching turn in Precious: Based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire (they should teach that performance as a study in excellence). She went from being an outspoken comedienne to Nikki on The Parkers to an Oscar-winner for a role she was once unimaginable in. With the first line of her acceptance speech, she thanked the Academy “For showing that it can be about the performance and not the politics.” before an applauding crowd. If Lee Daniels is to be believed, that one sentence cost her deeply.
I’m not Lee Daniels’ parent or child,I don’t know him personally. Yet here I am, until recently happy for his unprecedented success with Empire, and now disappointed with his attitude towards Hollywood and Mo’Nique, a woman crucial to his breakthrough as a major power-player.
There has been lot of talk lately, due to a startling story in The Hollywood Reporter, in which Mo’Nique talked about how Daniels called her after her win and informed her that she’s being “Blackballed” by the industry. Meaning: She stepped out of line and she’ll be stepped on. Just like that, her sudden absence from the scene was explained. A whole new door that was opening up to her closed, and Daniels deserted her.
Tensions originally flared during what’s known as Oscar campaign season, which through unwritten law requires nominated actors to sit through luncheons, interviews, and meetings to ensure they have a win on their hands. They need to appease members of the Academy as well as people of the press. Even if you don’t win, you’ve managed decent publicity and good graces. In the wake of Mo’Nique’s THR story, Daniels has claimed that she made outrageous demands for said campaigning that weren’t consistent with how it’s done. He hasn’t outright stated what those demands were because “everyone knows”.
Her attitude upset the Academy members, the very lifeblood of the industry. But how? By voting for her to win despite her not playing by the given rules, A.M.P.A.S already proved they’re not as petty as Daniels is making them out to be. Now there may have been people who raised eyebrows, there always are in a self-congratulatory system. But especially after Daniels became only the second Black Oscar-nominated director for a film that got rave reviews, in what scenario could he be pressured by producers to drop Mo’Nique?
Even if someone asked him to dissociate himself from her for what she had said, his move to comply is self-serving to say the least. He did not stand up for her, the woman who along with Gabourey Sidibe and Mariah Carey elevated his film to a level perhaps other actors couldn’t have. Even today, with films that grossed over $100 million and a smash hit television series, Daniels won’t try to take her side, he won’t even work with her again.
Maybe he was scared of persecution before, he wanted to play his cards safe, but not anymore. He went as far uttering the words “reverse racism” to describe Mo’Nique’s behavior in this CNN sit-down:
This man isn’t afraid of being called a sell-out but to be labelled a loyal friend was too risky? Black media have had a go at him lately. There are stories of how he remorselessly plays an Uncle Tom to stay in the game. His work is being disparaged for perpetuating stereotypes. He’s being called out for almost being apologetic for his race, his kids have reportedly read The Dairy of Anne Frank countless times, but never Roots.
He is correct about one thing though, it’s not show but showBUSINESS. As a Black gay man trying to break into Hollywood, who really knows how many compromises and sacrifices came his way to make him who he is? But what will spring from this conformity? “We’re just giving the people what they want” is a proven lie that still gets told somehow. Spike Lee, Shonda Rhimes, Steve McQueen, Ava DuVernay, Dee Rees, and Andrew Dosunmu are telling stories untold in perspectives unseen and are still in business and with more praise and respect than him.
Maybe Lee Daniels was too scared before, but now he’s in a place where you can certainly speak up. He can at least try to have Mo’Nique’s back. He can try to rebuild bridges. And he can surely show that he’s not a puppet to some arm-twisting White hierarchy, he’s better than that.
P.S. Here’s all he needs to know about Reverse Racism: