Mary J. Blige is certain that in two weeks, Mo’Nique will take home the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role — and it’s not just because her song “I Can See in Color” swells up after a certain powerful monologue towards the end of Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” By Sapphire.
“Mo’Nique is crying her eyes out,” Blige says, “and Precious starts to see her mom for who she really is.” Working on that film — even just watching it — was grueling for the singer, because so much of it reflected her own life back at her. The first time she saw the movie, she sat and reflected in silence for five minutes before she could speak. By the third time she saw it, she had to walk out of the theater, even though it was a public screening at the New York Film Festival. “I couldn’t do it anymore,” she said. “It was making me regress.”
“I lived a lot of things from Precious,” Blige explains. “A lot of people know my story from the child molestation to me turning into a suicidal person. I’ve seen some family members and friends actually live the depth of what Precious went through to the T. I know what that pain is, I know what that food is, I know the smell of those houses, I know the curse words going through her head every day that her mom called her.”
It’s because of her past, and her strong connection to girls like Precious, that Blige started the Foundation for the Achievement of Women Now (FFAWN) in 2008, and why she’s teamed up with designer Catherine Malandrino for line of T-shirts boasting empowerment phrases such as “I’m Love,” “I’m Power” and “I’m Good” to benefit the charity and help fund scholarships for underprivileged women. (The line was launched last week at Bloomingdales in New York).
“My whole thing is, there’s a lot of women like Precious out there who just want to die,” Blige says, “and I want to tell them, I wanted to die, too! So I’m here to tell them if I could get through this, we can all get through this. We can’t change that we were abused, but we can change the environment that we live in. We can change the company we keep. We can change how we feel about ourselves. And [the sayings on the shirts] are what we are, what we believe and aspire to be: love, power, joy. These are things sometimes we forget that we have access to.”
Because Blige feels a responsibility as a role model, she wants to be careful about what kind of roles she takes in movies, choosing parts that fit her life or her message. Mo’Nique’s role in Precious, for instance, would have been “perfect” for her, “because I know that mother,” but the role she’s taking on next is portraying Nina Simone in a biopic.
“Playing a character like Nina Simone is playing myself,” she explains, “because Nina Simone was a manic depressive, drug addict, alcoholic, cursing wild maniac that I was, but very talented, so people would get that. I can’t just play a prostitute. There’s a line you have to draw. People don’t understand it when you’re just showing your breasts, when you’re just, ‘Woo!’ They don’t get it.”