A decade after winning an Oscar, Mo’Nique is still doing it her way

When Mo’Nique won the best supporting actress Academy Award in 2010 for her performance in “Precious,” she thanked her husband for showing her that “sometimes you have to forgo doing what’s popular in order to do what’s right.”

She is still living that way a decade later, even if Hollywood may see it as something different.

“I believe winning that Oscar award, just as Hattie McDaniel, she said, ‘I felt like I was cursed instead of winning something that should be congratulated,’” Mo’Nique told CNN in a recent interview. “That award was something that I did not ask for, but because I didn’t respond the way people thought that I should have responded, as Lee Daniels said, I was blackballed.”

Some industry observers have suggested Mo’Nique is a victim of the “Oscar curse,” the belief that winning an Academy Award does little to help most actors and in some cases causes them to be less successful in their careers.

Mo’Nique has said she’s been labeled “difficult to work with” and “tactless.”
From the stand-up circuit to the Oscar stage

Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Mo’Nique was already what folks like to call “black people famous” via her career as a stand-up comic and actress who told it like it was.

But it was a different kind of acclaim after being hailed for her performance as the abusive mother, Mary Lee Johnston, in “Precious.”

What followed was not only her Academy Award win, but a well-publicized dispute with the film’s director, Lee Daniels, and producers Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey, which, according to Mo’Nique, stemmed from her decision to spend time with her family rather than travel to promote the film overseas.

Mo’Nique has said she was paid $50,000 for the role, and she told CNN she was only contractually obligated to promote the film domestically.

She felt her work was done when she declined the producers’ offer to send her to Cannes Film Festival, something she now says did not go over well at the time with Daniels, Perry and Winfrey.

“It was almost a feeling of ‘the nerve of you,’ especially when you are a Black woman,” Mo’Nique said.

That choice, Mo’Nique believes, earned her a reputation for being problematic to work with and proceeded tensions with other Black stars, including Steve Harvey and Whoopi Goldberg.

Daniels told “Raq Rants” in 2018 that he fought for Mo’Nique to be cast in “Precious,” “and for her to badmouth myself and Tyler and Oprah is disrespectful and it’s wrong.”

“No one blackballed her,” Daniels said. “Mo’Nique blackballed her.”

Reps for Daniels and Winfrey did not respond to CNN’s request for comment on this story. A rep for Perry declined to comment.
Getting her ‘due’

Mo’Nique has said that some have blamed her professional setbacks on her husband, Sidney Hicks, who is also her manager, the man she says taught her to love.

Hicks is very clear about the support he offers his wife and why he does so.

“When I was a young man and my grandmother sat me in the kitchen and let me know about how unsupportive my grandfather, a Black man, was and she requested that I not be that way when I become a man,” he told CNN. “In some small way, it gives me a level of honor that I’m trying to be the man that she didn’t have, that she was trying to groom me for the woman she never met.”

“You know, you’ve been wronged, you let it go and you move on and you act like nothing has ever happened,” is, according to Mo’Nique, how Black artists are supposed to respond to disparity in Hollywood.

“Well, that’s not a game that we can play or I’m willing to play because something did happen,” she said. “And because y’all had that narrative out there that I was difficult, that I was this hard person, and because Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry and Lee Daniels all said privately, ‘You’ve done nothing wrong’ but said nothing publicly and sat back and watched my career take a hit and watched me and my family suffer over what they knew was a lie.”

“So can we move past it?,” she added. “Of course, but we have to have a public and open conversation with those people.”

Hicks sees it as a larger issue beyond just his wife’s career.

“What happens is if she comes back — and she gets off the vilified list — that may emboldened other people to stand up and what you don’t want is for other people to stand up,” he theorized.

That hasn’t stopped the couple for fighting for what they believe is right.

Mo’Nique filed a lawsuit against Netflix in November, alleging discrimination.

According to her complaint, obtained by CNN, Netflix offered Mo’Nique $500,000 to appear in a one-hour comedy special, while signing multi-million dollar deals with other comedians, including Jerry Seinfeld, Amy Schumer, Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock and Ellen DeGeneres.

“We care deeply about inclusion, equity, and diversity and take any accusations of discrimination very seriously,” a spokesperson for Netflix told CNN in a statement at the time. “We believe our opening offer to Mo’Nique was fair — which is why we will be fighting this lawsuit.”

Despite her ongoing battles, Mo’Nique said she’s in a good place in her life. She’s focusing on her health and her career ahead.

Her Showtime special, “Mo’Nique & Friends: Live from Atlanta,” debuts Friday.

And while she may not have had the career many envisioned for her when she stood at that podium accepting her Oscar, she’s said she’s content and feels like she’s finally earning her due.

“What I’ve learned is I don’t need the outside validation, I don’t need the outside noise,” she said. “My family [is] good with me. When my sons say, ‘Mommy, we proud of you, Mommy and Daddy, we proud to y’all.’ I’m good. I’m getting my just due right now.”

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Obama-backed documentary on Ohio factory wins Academy Award

NEW YORK — The Oscar for best feature-length documentary has gone to “American Factory,” the first documentary released by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company.

The Netflix film is about an Ohio auto glass factory that is run by a Chinese investor. It explores many issues, including the rights of workers, globalization and automation.

“American Factory” beat out “Honeyland,” “The Cave,” “The Edge of Democracy” and “For Sama.” Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, directors of “American Factory” acknowledged the work of their fellow nominees on Sunday. “We are inspired by you guys,” said Reichert.

Barack Obama in a tweet Sunday congratulated the filmmakers “for telling such a complex, moving story about the very human consequences of wrenching economic change. Glad to see two talented and downright good people take home the Oscar for Higher Ground’s first release.”

The film is about the Fuyao plant, bought by Chinese industrialist Cao Dewang, which employs some 2,200 American and 200 Chinese workers. The film gives a close-up look at how the cultures adjust to one another. Tensions rise when the factory doesn’t initially meet production goals, culminating in a bitter fight over the right to unionize.

Reichert noted that her film is about an Ohio plant but it could be from anywhere “people put on a uniform, punch a clock, trying to make their families have a better life. Working people have it harder and harder these days. We believe that things will get better when workers of the world unite.”

The name of the Obamas’ company, Higher Ground, flashes by in the opening credits, but the Obamas themselves aren’t mentioned anywhere. Neither is President Donald Trump.

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Hollywood Reporter Sets Empowerment Gala; Oprah Winfrey to Be Honored

The star-studded event will kick off THR’s groundbreaking diversity initiative, the Young Executives Fellowship, as it celebrates individuals who are breaking down barriers for people of color, women, the LGBTQ community and other emerging voices in Hollywood.

The Hollywood Reporter’s inaugural Empowerment in Entertainment gala has been set for April 30 in Los Angeles, kicking off the publication’s recently announced Hollywood inclusion initiative, the Young Executives Fellowship.

Oprah Winfrey will receive the first-ever Empowerment Award at the gala, honoring individuals who have created opportunities for people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community and other emerging voices in the industry. The event will be accompanied by a dedicated issue of The Hollywood Reporter that spotlights entertainment’s leaders of change, in addition to formally launching the Fellowship program.

Winfrey, whose Oprah Winfrey Network prioritizes diverse voices and stories, has donated more than $400 million to educational causes throughout her decades-spanning career. Her long list of philanthropic endeavors includes the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, Oprah’s Angel Network (a charity that has raised more than $80 million in support of nonprofits around the world, including $11 million for relief efforts in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina) and over 400 scholarships given to students attending Morehouse College in Atlanta.

“Oprah is one of the most prolific and impactful advocates for inclusivity in the history of our industry,” said The Hollywood Reporter’s editorial director, Matthew Belloni. “We’re thrilled she has chosen to lend her voice in support of our Young Executives Fellowship, and we’re confident that this program will help forge a pathway for a diverse new generation of Hollywood leaders. I can’t think of a more perfect honoree for our first-ever Empowerment Award.”

The first of its kind, THR’s Young Executives Fellowship — a sister initiative to THR’s Women in Entertainment Mentorship Program, now in its 10th year — will select 25 high school juniors on a highly competitive basis for a two-year program that will include business curriculum and mentoring; all students will come from underserved schools in Los Angeles, Compton and Inglewood. The program, overseen by an advisory board that includes Endeavor CEO Ariel Emanuel, Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke, former Paramount Pictures chairman Sherry Lansing, King Center CEO Martin Luther King III and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, is designed to create a pipeline for future leaders in film and television — inviting high school students from historically underrepresented communities in and around Los Angeles to participate in a program that combines education and industry mentorship.

The Fellowship board also includes City of Compton Mayor Aja Brown, Imax Entertainment president Megan Colligan, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater LA CEO Olivia Diaz-Lapham, NBCUniversal Cable chairman Bonnie Hammer, best-selling author and pastor Bishop T.D. Jakes, media investor Jon Jashni, Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, producer Kweku Mandela, Inglewood schools state administrator Dr. Thelma Melendez, Entertainment Industry Foundation CEO Nicole Sexton, attorney Nina Shaw, Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee president Casey Wasserman and former Los Angeles Unified School District president Steve Zimmer.

In the first year of the Fellowship program, the 25 selected students will spend a summer on campus at USC, where they will learn about production, marketing and finance, in an interactive setup that will include top-level speakers and site visits to the studios and networks. The educational component will be overseen by faculty under the supervision of USC School of Cinematic Arts Dean Elizabeth Daley.

After the summer course, the Fellows will be placed in pods of three or four at major entertainment companies, including The Hollywood Reporter, where they will be assigned mentors who will work with them in applying to college. Each student will be guaranteed a paid internship at the company that oversees him or her, with the goal that this experience will lead to a paid position following graduation. Students in the Young Executives Fellowship will also receive SAT tutoring and educational grants for college.

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