Posts Tagged ‘Mo’Nique’

Oscar History Pt. II: Black and Female

March 9, 2010

Last night, the screen went black when I turned to ABC7. That’s because ABC and Cablevision were bangin’ over airwaves, or pixels–yes I was among the near 3 million tri-state area viewers caught in the cable beef. By 8:20 the ticker was saying they were trying to work things out, but by then I’d made plans to watch it with friends who bought a digital antenna. 

My first tweet wondered why Doogie Hauser, MD (he’ll always be that character for me, sorry) was on stage singing when Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were the hosts. “They shoulda let Lenny Kravitz open. He woulda KILLED with those showgirls!” 

With the opening number behind us, Steve and Alec come out, their banter ranging from hysterical to off-color. What was with tying Meryl Streep to Hitler memorabilia? Were they inferring that having all those statuettes at home made her evil? I couldn’t help but feel like the Old Boys were unconsciously expressing something–resentment, frustration, wonder-at how a woman could be the most Oscar(r) decorated actor in history. As my friend, screenwriter Sam Jean @sjean70  noted via Twitter, “I’m tired of them making Meryl Streep the sacrificial lamb.” Amen. She’s earned everything she’s got. 

Streep: Diva is anutha version of a hustla...

And: she looked fabulously relaxed in her plunging ivory gown. I mean the woman is ringside at the Oscars every year and I love her for it! 

But Meryl would not extend her historic winning lead on this night; it was about first-time women nominees breaking ground. Gabourey Sidibe’s tour-de-force performance in ‘Precious’ earned her a nomination alongside the veteran Streep though she had never acted before. Oprah’s acknowledgment of her had Gabby in tears. Gabby had actually won just by being there; by bringing Precious Jones to life. 

Mo’Nique made her sweep complete as she accepted her Best Supporting Actress Oscar(r), invoking the name of Hattie McDaniel, who accepted the same honor in 1939, a first for any Black actor. Usually I bristle at the Academy’s penchant (if we can call it that’ given Black actors so seldom win) for awarding Oscars to African Americans who deliver monstrous or stereotypical portrayals. 


But knowing that Lee Daniels directed Mo’Nique, knowing that she channeled her own experience as a survivor of abuse, knowing that Mary Jones was just as much a victim as a perpetrator and also deserving of compassion–all helped me to distinguish “the performance from the politics” as Mo’Nique so eloquently put it at the podium. (I wait patiently for a Black actor to win in a role that uplifts him or herself or his/her people. I will not, however, hold my breath). 

Another historic win happened as Geoffrey Fletcher won for Best Adapted Screenplay for his searing and tender adaptation of Sapphire’s PUSH. He was so humbled an overwhelmed, Oprah gave him a do-over on her after-Oscars show. His victory was particularly inspiring to me as an author and screenwriter-in-progress. A beautiful testament to how powerful it is when Black people write and drive their own narratives. 

Which brings me to the Kanye moment of the evening: Best Documentary. The Award went to Music by Prudence, directed by a brother, Roger Ross Williams. He’s making his speech, and then up jumps this matronly redhead, interrupting. 

Turnabout: Roger Ross Williams Kanye'd by Elinor Burkett

It was revealed today that the two are now on opposing sides of a lawsuit related to the film. But nonetheless, he was gracious, turning the world’s attention to Prudence, who look mortified for them both from the nosebleed section. Nice to see a Black male director win something, even if it wasn’t Lee Daniels, who I had the pleasure of meeting through ‘Precious’ executive producer and Put Your Dreams First interviewee Lisa Cortes. 

Cortes watching her baby at a screening

Even Sandra Bullock’s moment was a historical one; she has taken the Blind Side to over $250 million in box office receipts as a lead actress–and there were no android or alien co-stars. Her heartfelt speech about her mother’s impact on her life and the equality of all people no matter their background made me want to see her in the movie and judge the story for myself. 

You earned it AND wore them down! Go girl!

I was not mad that she won at all. I enjoyed her immensely in Crash though she only had a few scenes. She’s been working on her craft, and it paid off. No shots, but from the poster it seemed very ‘benevolent white woman saves Black manchild’. I really dug how she dedicated her Best Actress Oscar to “the mommas who take care of the babies no matter where they come from.” I’ll report back on Twitter. 

But the ultimate? The ULTIMATE was Kathryn Bigelow’s combination knockout, winning Best Director and Best Picture for The Hurt Locker in a stunning upset. 

Bigelow: Fly, composed, and loving life after James. See gun show.

I for one love the back story on this. Her wins prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that 2010 is the Year of the Woman in Entertainment. She not only swept both categories, a first for any woman, but she did so in competition with her ex-husband, James Cameron, creator/writer/director of the 3-D juggernaut so big The Last Airbender couldn’t even keep its full name: Avatar. Keep in mind that The Hurt Locker was ‘The Little Iraq War Movie That Could’ until she won the DGA Award (another female first). Then the rumblings began: could the ex-wife beat the ‘king of the world’ come Oscar Night? I was cheering for her on the strength of being able to come out from his shadow and direct her own film. But then, I saw it. And Kathryn’s movie won because at the end of the day it was substance over style, story over simulation. While Avatar was great filmmaking, The Hurt Locker was a great film. And for Barbra Streisand to present the award with “the time has come” was phenomenal. We may never know how hard Streisand has fought to go from talent to creator in this game and stay at the top, but last night, she was glad for some company up there. 

Mo’Nique has been a shero of mine since she bared her soul about the business in my book in 2007. But she was endeared to me forever when, after a promo shoot I co-produced, she taped a birthday message for my mother who was her biggest fan. We shot in May. Mom’s birthday was September 1. I was going to surprise her with it then–until she was diagnosed with cancer in July. I gave her the DVD early to lift her spirits. She watched it and laughed every day until her last, October 11, 2007. 

Mo'mentum, Suga!

So I cheered extra loud when Mo’ won, because I felt like I had; because I was cheering for me and mom too. 

But last night, I found a new shero in Kathryn Bigelow, who one could argue is now Queen of the World–or at least the film world. 

Thank you, history makers. Thank you for giving us non-white, non males tangible proof that our dreams are within reach, whether they include Oscars or not.

Me & Oscar. It's all about visualization.

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners. Honorable mention goes to Jeff Bridges, who is truly a brilliant actor and finally got his props for his role in Crazy Heart. And I have to give it up for the b-boys and girls during that interpretive dance number. Between that and the John Hughes tribute, this child of the ’80s went to bed extra happy!

What did you think of the Oscars? Do you think we’ll see more balanced representation in the recipients going forward? Comment below and let me know.

Get Ahead In Business Without Giving It-ON HELLO Beautiful April 20, 2009

April 20, 2009

putyourdreamsfirst_finalmshakaauthor1_color10Thembisa Mshaka, as a creative executive at Sony Music, helped launch the careers of Beyoncé and 50 Cent. Now an executive at BET, Mshaka has gathered her experience and those of almost 100 other women in the entertainment business in her new book, “Put Your Dreams First,” available as a FREE DOWNLOAD until April 22, 2009 exclusively on HelloBeautiful. The book is an instant mentorship in all aspects of the business: Movies. Music. Radio & TV. New Media. Advertising & Publicity. Style & Design. Management & Representation.

We sat down with Mshaka recently to discuss how she turned the idea of this book into reality, and got some juicy details on how she got Vanessa Williams to write the forward for “Put Your Dreams First.”

What was your inspiration for the book?

There was really no one incident, more like a recurring series of the same incident in different settings. At the magazine where I was an editor, I was the only Black female to ever hold the position, and was appointed to it at the age of 21. I would moderate panels and be the only female on the dais. I would participate in panels and be the only woman of color who worked in entertainment.

At the end of many panels and events, women of all ages and backgrounds would literally bum-rush the table and ask me to mentor them, or help them with a specific situation, or ask me how I got started. I kept in touch with some, but inevitably I could not give them the mentorship they deserved. Which got me to thinking: What if I created “mentorship in a bottle” for these women, and anyone else who wanted the real story on the business? The idea lit me up, and I started researching to create what would become “Put Your Dreams First.”

What’s the most important thing you want women to come away with from this book?

Can I be honest at the risk of being a bit crude? The one thing I want women to get from “Put Your Dreams First” is that you do not need to get ahead by giving head. Unless you’re a soccer player, put away your knee pads! There are many more successful women in the business than they realize who got there with their clothes on and their integrity intact. I say this not to judge those who may not have; I believe God is the only and final judge. I believe even these women may need that affirmation so they can work in the business with dignity. If this book can give them that, I’ve accomplished my goal.

I’ve been in this industry for 17 years, and am disheartened by the predominant representation of women in our business as eye candy, gold diggers, human accessories in videos. Sure these women exist. These archetypes predate the entertainment industry as we know it. And they aren’t going anywhere. But that said, it’s 2009, and the time for balanced representation has come. We are finally at a point where the prospect of equal pay for equal work can become a legislative reality.

What was the most interesting interview you conducted and why?

If I had to choose standouts, I would mention Tina Davis, who speaks in detail about becoming a heavyweight in the A&R field and developing stars, including her own client, Chris Brown; Mo’Nique, who spoke about how to fire a manager; Lisa Cortes, who shared her triumphant story of rising from a painful lawsuit to become one of Hollywood’s most sought-after film producers; Cathy Hughes, who talked about why she refused to choose between her son and her education; and Tylibah, an emerging lyricist and self-published poet who refused to sleep with prominent men in the music world in exchange for opportunities. All of these women are courageous and inspiring.

What was the most surprising finding you encountered in your research and interviews?

That 80% of my respondents cited the absence of mentorship as the greatest barrier to their advancement in entertainment. As someone who had the benefit of multiple mentors, I realized how blessed I was to have those sounding boards and pillars of support.

How did you get Vanessa Williams to write the foreword?

This is a GREAT story. Vanessa and I are both clients of a wonderful salon called the J Sisters in New York City. Jane, one of the founders, was talking with me during a service. I lamented that I had a very strong short list of women for my foreword, but that I felt like it would be no easy task to secure one of them. I explained to her that this woman would have to have been successful across many areas of the business: music, film, television, stage, fashion, radio, or some combination of at least three. So you can imagine the list: Vanessa Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Janet Jackson, Nona Hendryx, Barbra Streisand, Jennifer Lopez, Madonna.

Jane says, “Vanessa! She’s the one. She’s a client here too. I will call you the next time she’s here for her manicure, pedicure and hair appointment. You MUST rush over as soon as I call, okay?! I agreed, with my heart doing backflips inside. Vanessa was truly my first choice, especially because of what she endured to maintain her career post-Miss America. One day, Jane called. I rushed over. And sure enough, Vanessa was a captive audience of one soaking her feet and unable to move. So I spoke to her about the project (it helped that I had interviewed Lisa Cortes, whom she knew form her days as an artist with Wing/Mercury Records). She loved the idea and asked me to send her a few chapters to read while she was on the set of “Hannah Montana: The Movie.” She literally read them all from her Blackberry “from a cornfield in Tennessee” as she put it in an email. And within a couple weeks, I had an email containing her foreword, written 100% by her. Vanessa Williams is a woman’s woman; the real deal. Gorgeous inside and out. She didn’t have to even talk to me at the salon, let alone contribute the foreword. But she understood my mission. I am forever grateful to her for lending her name and part of her story to the book. I cannot wait to read to her memoir, which she’s working on now.

How do you balance your own career and personal life?

I don’t. I can no more balance the personal and career aspects of my life than I can divide them. They are inexplicably tied to one another, because I only have one life. So I choose to make my one life work. Teetering on the verge of falling between extremes is not living; that’s what I think of when I hear work-life balance. I strive for work-life function so I can be fully present in the moment as often as possible. I involve my very crucial village of family and friends when I need to, and take care of myself with solo vacations and spa days. Women should not be made to feel guilty for wanting careers, families, and relationships.

Have you ever had to deal with sexual harassment? Pay inequity? Bigotry?

Yes, yes, and yes. But you’ll have to read the book for the details.

What was the hardest lesson you ever learned in your career?

Actually, two tie for first place: That crying while on duty is a no-no, and that incompetent men fail up entirely too often to the detriment of very capable women.

This book in an amazing assembly of a virtual mentorship dream team. Who were your mentors?

It is important to have at least one for every major life transition you make. I am blessed to have had many. First and foremost, my mother, Fulani Mshaka, who I lost to cancer in October of 2007. The book is dedicated to her; she fed my love of words with books and movies. She was a social worker and therapist, my model for the importance of service to others in need. When I moved to Oakland, artist developer and beauty consultant Kelly Armstrong, who was a role model of success in the Bay Area entertainment scene took me under her wing. I met author Terrie M. Williams, at a Learning Annex event in San Francisco. When I moved to New York, I contacted her and she always made time to set me straight or invite me to events where I could learn and network. Industry giants Sharon Heyward and Dyana Williams have been a great source of wisdom for me. SO much so, that I included them both in the book. Last but not least I have to acknowledge Johnnie Walker, whose leadership through NABFEME has been invaluable. Remember: you don’t have to talk to mentors every day for them to serve in that capacity; you can be mentored by their actions and their legacies as well.


January 27, 2009
CONGRATULATIONS, LISA CORTES AND MO’NIQUE! What an inspiration you both are!

These ladies swept the Sundance Film Festival as Executive Producer and outstanding actor respectively in PUSH. The film adaptation of Sapphire’s searing novel captured The Grand Jury Prize, the Audience Prize in addition to the Special Jury Prize for Acting, awarded to Mo’Nique for her nightmarish portrayal of Mary, the lead character Clareece’s abusive mother.

Both Lisa and Mo’Nique were generous enough to share their trials, triumphs and secrets to career fulfillment in my soon-to-be-released career guide for those who want to know what the entertainment biz is REALLY like, entitled Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business.

PUSH Executive Producer and music industry icon Lisa Cortes.
Lisa talks about making a clean break after a strenuous lawsuit against PolyGram Records and changing lanes into film, where she joined forces with anti-establishment producer-director Lee Daniels (the only African American to win an Oscar as a producer for Monster’s Ball).
Mshaka (right) With Mo’Nique and Woody Victor at BET Awards ’07 Host Promo Shoot
Mo’Nique breaks it down as only she can about hiring the right entourage and breaking the silence of racism and sexism in television production as the executive producer and creator of not one but TWO hit reality shows.
Mo’Nique (left) and Gabourey Sibide (right), who plays Clareece

Honorable Mention: Also featured in the book is makeup legend of music, TV and film, Nzingha, who did a masterful job on Push.

See Lee Daniels talk about the film here:

Pre-order Put Your Dreams First now and save over 30%. Trust me, these wormen’s stories are worth the wait while you get the savings!

Sisters storming Hollywood. That’s what happens when you Put Your Dreams First!

Available now for pre-orders wherever you buy books, in stores April 23