Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mo’Nique’s Oscar – Victory And Setback

Lee Daniels, Centre With, L To R, some of the cast of Precious: Mariah Carey, Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique and Paula Patton. Photograph: Getty Images

Mo’Nique’s Oscar – Victory And Setback

Julianne Malveaux

…It rankles (me) that an image of the fat, black, slovenly welfare cheat is lifted up even at a time when public assistance rolls have been drastically cut, despite our economy. The myth of the welfare queen, strongly promoted by President Ronald Reagan when he was governor of California, reinforced in 1996 when President Bill Clinton supported “welfare reform (I called it deform) legislation, is one of the ugly urban legends that seems to shape perceptions of African-American women. And ain’t I a woman, Sojourner Truth might say. Aren’t there positive dramatic roles for African-American women in Hollywood?

To be sure, every character in “Precious” is not a negative stereotype. Mariah Carey’s role as a social worker was a pitch perfect depiction of an overworked and somewhat harried helping professional with too large a caseload. Paula Patton plays teacher Miss Blu Rain in a way that reminded me of my best teachers, those who went the extra mile. There are other characters with redeeming social value in the movie, but there would have to be given the pervasive degeneracy of Mary Jones played by Mo’Nique.

I would love to see someone green light the story of Madame C.J. Walker, our nation’s first black woman millionaire. There’s some glamour there, and some drama! What about the story of Ida B. Wells, who had to flee the state of Tennessee because of her anti-lynching writing. In a contemporary context, why not tell the story of Cathy Liggins Hughes, the millionaire owner of Radio One, who slept in her studio because she couldn’t afford rent and the cost of station operations. These are dramatic stories, but they fly in the face of the stereotypes that were replete in “Precious.”

I don’t begrudge Mo’Nique her Oscar. She took the material she was given and she worked it. She made Mary Jones a repulsive character with absolutely no redeeming social value. I am simply frustrated that these are the only kinds of roles that Hollywood offers African-American women, the only kinds of roles that Oscar chooses to lift up. I am frustrated that some may consider Mary Jones’ bestiality as typical, not atypical of African-American women.

When African-American women’s characters in film are more reflective of our reality, and when these characters’ performances are lifted up by Oscar, then we will have come a long way, baby. Until then, Mo’Nique’s victory is her laudable personal success. It is a black community setback.

(Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women.  She can be reached at

See Also...
Tha Artivist & W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News Salutes Mo’Nique On Well Deserved Oscar Win… 

Do Oscars ‘Reward’ Blacks For Playing Negative Roles?
'Precious' Little Patience For Blaxploitation

Meet Lee Daniels The Mastermind Behind Precious...

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