“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,” said comedian and award-winning actress Mo’Nique to Seth Abramovitch for The Hollywood Reporter. The two connected to recognize the 75th anniversary of Hattie McDaniel’s historic Oscar win in 1940.
Conveniently while it is the 75th year that Ms. McDaniel won the 1940 Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress becoming the first Black actress to win an Oscar, just 5 years ago, Mo’Nique took home the very same award for her role as Mary Lee Johnston in Lee Daniels’ Precious. For context regarding the racial climate that McDaniel had to face, here’s an excerpt from THR’s Oscar’s First Black Winner Accepted Her Honor in a Segregated ‘No Blacks’ Hotel in L.A.:
The 12th Academy Awards were held at the famed Cocoanut Grove nightclub in The Ambassador Hotel. McDaniel arrived in a rhinestone-studded turquoise gown with white gardenias in her hair. (Seventy years later in 2010, a blue-gown– and white-gardenia–clad Mo’Nique, one of 11 black actors to win Academy Awards since, was the only one to pay homage to McDaniel while accepting her best supporting actress Oscar for Lee Daniels‘ Precious.) McDaniel then was escorted, not to the Gone With the Wind table — where Selznick sat with de Havilland and his two Oscar-nominated leads, Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable — but to a small table set against a far wall, where she took a seat with her escort, F.P. Yober, and her white agent, William Meiklejohn. With the hotel’s strict no-blacks policy, Selznick had to call in a special favor just to have McDaniel allowed into the building (it was officially integrated by 1959, when the Unruh Civil Rights Act outlawed racial discrimination in California).
After McDaniel’s role as Mammy, the head slave in Tara — the fictional Southern plantation where the bulk of Gone With the Wind took place — she was continuously typecast as a maid. In fact, as per her IMDB list, 74 out of 94 roles that she had until her death were maid roles. Making her response, “I’d rather play a maid than be a maid.” Because of this, along with the thought that she was an agent of black oppression, not a neutral force, when portraying Black stereotypes as perceived my members of the NAACP — Walter Francis White in particular.
Now, let’s come back to the future. While speaking with Time, Mo’Nique reveals that she too has felt outcasted in response to her winning an Academy Award despite thanking Hattie McDaniel “for enduring all that she had to, so that I would not have to.”
When asked if and how wining the Oscar changed her life, Mo’Nique responded: “How did the Oscar change my life? What it did was that it gave me a new reality. And it let me know that an award wasn’t going to change my life — that I had to be in control of changing my life. I’ll ask you: How do you think the Oscar was supposed to change my life?”
As stated in the opening quote “more respect, more choices and more money” is what was expected by the comedian. “Hattie said, ‘After I won that award, it was as if I had done something wrong.’ It was the same with me. I thought, once you won the award, that’s the top prize — and so you’re supposed to be treated as if you got the top prize.”
Unfortunately, Mo’Nique was not treated as such.
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?”
After reaching out to Lee Daniels for a comment on his discussion with Mo’Nique, he replied:
“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.”
–Jamaal Fisher (@jamaalfisher)