Call it cynicism spurred by decades of watching artists, actors and other public figures squirm to make the perfect “I just lost an award, but believe me, I’m very happy for the person who beat me!” face in a matter of seconds, but I don’t always believe people when they say it’s an honor to be nominated.
However, as we move into Oscar weekend, I am reminded that in the case of Mary J. Blige, who is nominated for best supporting actress for her performance in Mudbound, that is undoubtedly the case.
It is highly unlikely that Blige will upset the expected winner of that category, Allison Janney (for her performance in I, Tonya), but who could have imagined that Mary J. Blige would ever get to this point? That she would be hitting the Oscar red carpet as a nominee for both acting and music? For the rest of her career, she will be able to distinguish herself among her peers.
Nothing is impossible, but if you had told me, a die-hard Mary fan, five or 10 years ago, of this trajectory, I might’ve instructed your trolling ass to get away from me.
She is the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, but as with many singers-turned-actresses, our expectations were limited. After all, this is the woman who played Ole Mae on The Jamie Foxx Show, Tanya on Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad by Myself and Mom on Prison Song.
Sure, she was OK for the material she was given, though as much as I adore MJB, I had no idea “Mom” would have made it as far as she has as an actress. There have been moments in which she was a’ight—say, in the TV film Betty and Coretta—but I was pleasantly surprised at the level of depth she brought to the role of Florence Jackson in the Dee Rees-directed Netflix drama that has since earned her kudos from the academy.
Blige can often appear awkward in interviews; blinking profusely, avoiding eye contact with the interviewer at times and being noticeably cautious about whatever she is going to say in certain instances. Those characteristics tended to transfer to her acting roles, sometimes making it difficult to remove Blige from whatever character she was portraying.
That wasn’t the case in her portrayal of Florence. If anything, the way Blige employed that stillness, caution and underlying pain she carries made Florence all the more interesting to watch. As well done a film as Mudbound is, I found it hard to watch, given that it is a historical drama set decades ago against the present day, when a Nazi-sympathizing bigot currently occupies the White House. Blige made the film watchable for me because I was so impressed by her growth as an actress.
Speaking about that role in a New York magazine profile, Blige said, “Everyone I see, they say, ‘Oh, my God, you were so great. I didn’t know.’ They didn’t know I had whatever they’re seeing in me; they didn’t know I could pull it off. To be quite honest, I didn’t even know I did that good.”
Now she is up for several more roles—including the upcoming Netflix series The Umbrella Academy. I say this with all sincerity: This should all be considered hope to artists-turned-thespians who many feel can’t act worth a damn. No, I am not volunteering names. Talk among yourselves.
Many of us turned to Mary J. Blige because she was a person in pain who managed to lend voice to ours. In an industry that often makes everyone disposable, but particularly aging black women, it has long been refreshing to see Mary J. Blige not only maintain in the industry, but as of late, thrive in new ways that will only extend her remarkable career.
Of course, we have since learned that her divorce from estranged husband Kendu Isaacs contributed to her raved-about performance. It has also sadly put her in a bit of financial peril.
As recently reported here, Blige made no money from her Mudbound performance and is paying off millions of dollars in debt. As far as I’m concerned, Isaacs can fall dick first into the abyss. We trusted this man to make our girl happy, and look how gloriously he fucked up.
Still, Mary J. Blige will be OK. She will tour. She will produce her own TV shows and films. She will, ideally, finally quit playing and give the streets the thigh-high boot line they crave from her. And, of course, she will continue acting.
Allison Janney may be taking the trophy Sunday, but considering all that’s she been through and where her life is now going, Mary J. Blige will still end up the queen of the night. It won’t have happened to a more deserving person. If she does manage to win the Oscar for best song, however, expect me to sob with your aunties about it on the next MJB tour.