Though Mo’Nique hasn’t been on the big screen since her Oscar-winning performance in Lee Daniels’ Precious, the actress is back with a new project and message for mothers everywhere.
In Blackbird–which she also executive produces–Mo’Nique plays a mother in the deep South who struggles with her son’s homosexuality, among other family dynamics. But the theme of homophobia in the church and parents failing to accept their children simply because of their sexuality is one that pervades the film. Not only does it serve as the major thread in the film, but it’s something families are dealing with across the globe.
Mo’Nique, in particular, is passionate about the topic of love and acceptance. In an exclusive chat with Centric, “The Parkers” star explains how growing up the LGBT community exhibited a love toward her they often did not receive themselves from others. Seeing lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people being denied and rejected is something the mother of four says breaks her heart. With Blackbird–which blows the lid off how communities think of homosexuality and the church–Mo’Nique says she hopes people, mothers in particular, will see that above all else, love is love no matter how you splice it.
Read her powerful interview below.
CENTRIC: Tell us a little about the character you play, Claire Rousseau.
MO’NIQUE: Claire is a woman from the South who is deeply-rooted in her faith–a Christian woman–who totally believes what’s in that bible, and totally believes everything that the pastor says on the pulpit. She struggles with her beliefs and in loving her family. She’s dealing with the abduction of her daughter, dealing with the separation of her marriage and dealing with her son being homosexual and dealing with his sexuality. You have a woman who is really trying to deal with her emotions and keep it together because she’s been so conditioned to believe one way, but her eyes are showing her something different.
CENTRIC: During a screening Centric attended in New York City, Blackbird director Patrik-Ian Polk said you knew you wanted to be part of this film by time you read the first scene in the script. What in particular made you decide to join this project?
MO’NIQUE: When I finished reading the first page and first scene when he’s in the church and on the choir and the young man comes and they take their robes off and they kiss…I’m looking at Sidney (her husband) like ‘Oh my goodness. If they put on screen what’s on paper it’s going to really save lives and change minds and open hearts.’ We have yet to see that. We’ve not really dealt with it in its rarest form. Blackbird truly gives it to you raw and honest.
CENTRIC: From where did you pull from for the role. Was it difficult playing a character that essentially exhibits a level of disgust against her son simply because of his sexual orientation?
MO’NIQUE: Not difficult at all. I was very honored to play her because we know her. I know her. I know those mothers who struggle something terrible because they just can’t seem to accept their baby because they’ve been taught all of their life that this is a bad thing or the wrong thing. So when Patrik says action, I bring her to life to show oftentimes we can’t see ourselves until we see it in someone else. Trying to get us to see ourselves in Claire Rousseau to say look at the damage and the devastation that we are bringing to our families, and bringing to our babies, based on what you’re reading and what you’re being told–but you know your baby is a dynamic human being. To bring that to life and say ‘hey sistas of all races, let’s take a look at what we’re doing to our families.’
CENTRIC: Obviously you’re a supporter of the LGBT community…but have you always been an ally, or did your perspective evolve over time?
MO’NIQUE: I was introduced to the LGBT community when I was 16 years old by some amazing, beautiful, funny, talented, young Black men who were all gay. Most of them had the same story: my family no longer accepts me, I’m scared, I just want to be loved. But we would go out to those clubs, they just introduced me to a different kind of love. No one was judging. Everyone was having a good time. So I’ve been a part of that community for a really long time. As I said before, Blackbird is truly my love letter to all those beautiful young men who love me in a way that I can’t even explain because they always made me feel accepted. I was never an outsider, I was never a little fat girl. They just loved on me in a very special way. So to get this beautiful piece of art that Patrik and Rikki [Beadle Blair] put together is my way of saying thank y’ll and I hope I do your story justice.
CENTRIC: And as a heterosexual Black woman, are there ways in which you would say you could relate or empathize with that kind of discrimination?
MO’NIQUE: Of course. We can all empathize what it’s like not to be accepted for whatever it may be. I believe every person on the face of this earth understands what it is to be the outsider. So if we empathize more with people that are dealing with that and say ‘I know what it’s like’ we may not be so quick to judge them.
CENTRIC: What is some advice you would give mothers or parents who deal with that struggle?
MO’NIQUE: That our babies aren’t mistakes. Our babies are these amazing miracles that we really can’t explain. And just like you would want someone to love you through your life for who you are, isn’t it time that we love our babies through their lives for who they are?
CENTRIC: Why do you think it’s so hard for the church to grapple with LGBT issues and accept people who identify on the spectrum?
MO’NIQUE: Because of conditioning. It’s not that our church folk are bad folk. We’ve been conditioned and traditioned of what we should believe in and how we should believe. I think the moment we really take the time out to open up our hearts and our minds, we may come to a place to say universally no mistakes were being made. Everyone was made the way they were supposed to be made. If we allow people to be free, watch the freedom you’ll see for yourself.
CENTRIC: What are your thoughts on the notion that the Black community is more homophobic than other racial groups?
You know what, I used to believe that because the only people I really dealt with was the Black community. But when we took this film to different festivals, there were Italian men, Asian men, Black men, Latin men, white men and women saying ‘that’s my story.’ Then it let me know it’s not just the Black community that’s homophobic. It’s just this community called human beings. Oftentimes we can have a hard time accepting folks for just who they are. The reason why we say it’s harder for the Black community is because it’s the community we deal with the most. But if you go to another community and spend some time there, you’ll see it’s not just the Black churches–it’s churches, it’s communities, it’s people, it’s mothers.
CENTRIC: The overarching message of Blackbird seems to be that love is love no matter how you splice it. How can we as a society, and specifically the Black community, truly make that a reality as it relates to LGBT people and them being fully accepted?
MO’NIQUE: If we just change our mind and hearts. I know that sounds really difficult but remember there was a time that we couldn’t even drink out the same water fountain. There was a time we thought that would never change. There are people who left this earth with that and never changed. Until one day some like-minded people said this is absolutely ridiculous–because the water is coming out the same pipe. They’re just going to a different fountain. We’re going to get to a place where [homophobia] is absolutely ridiculous. To tell my children that there was time that a Black woman and white man couldn’t get married because it was illegal, they look at us and say ‘that’s ridiculous.’ So we’re hoping that by time they have their children and they say ‘you there was a time that two men and two women couldn’t be married?’ We’re hoping they’re going to say ‘that is ridiculous.’
CENTRIC: What kind of impact do you hope Blackbird will have on audiences?
MO’NIQUE: The impact we hope that it will have is that people accept people of who they are. If we take off the labels and start dealing with each other just with humanity, we’re hoping that we truly treat each other with decency and love and respect. That’s it.