“Everything is up on the screen.”
That’s Mo’Nique, explaining why she hasn’t decamped to Hollywood to woo those who hold her Oscar dreams, whatever they might be, in their hands.
How audacious of her. How refreshing.
Though the award gods have been thundering in anger for weeks now, she has won a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award and on Tuesday picked up an Oscar nomination for supporting actress for her performance in “Precious” despite her unwillingness to wade into the fray.
Speaking in her stead is the guttural growl of Mary, a mother whose rage roars over her daughter Precious with such force, defying us to forgive the twisted abuse she has witnessed and inflicted on her child, and that child’s children. The invective unleashed is so searing, the need so naked, the truth so ugly, the performance is almost unbearable to watch and yet impossible to turn away from.
Against that darkly drawn canvas of hate stand those six words — simple, succinct, sincere. And with them Mo’Nique has created a sort of “anti-campaign” right in the middle of the “campaign season.” It’s as if she is demanding to be judged on her work, of all things.
It’s a notion that sometimes gets lost in all the hyperbole, that performance should trump everything else, especially popularity, when it comes to the Oscars and all the other movie awards that pile up this time of year. But it has taken Mo’Nique, no mincer of words and no prom queen in search of anyone’s approval, to remind us of exactly that as we move ever closer to the Academy Awards ceremony in March, which, if you think of it, is pretty much Hollywood’s version of prom night with all those fancy ball gowns and tiaras and tuxes.
Still too many of the obsessives (that growing mass of insiders, observers and ordinary fans, and I count us among them) who monitor every breath taken during award season, as if life itself were on the line, remain incredulous, a raucous, rising chorus of complainers chanting “off with her head.” Doesn’t she want it? And by extension, if she doesn’t want it, how could she possibly deserve it?
If we’re going to agree that the performance should be the measure, then attitude, even arrogance, shouldn’t matter, but we’re human so of course it does. Her exquisite grace in accepting first the Golden Globe, then the SAG Award, should have stilled that debate.
Whether intentional or not, Mo’Nique’s “everything is on the screen” may turn out to be the most brilliant strategic stroke in Oscar campaigning since the early ’90s.
This year we’ve been reminded of the contract the academy forged with the artists and with the rest of us, the promise that those who win an Oscar will be the best. The question, as Mo’Nique might put it, is whether or not they’ve put everything up on the screen. If they have, that should be enough.