Last night’s Academy Awards was all about the indie that could: Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Directing for The Hurt Locker; and Precious, a movie that needed the star power of Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey to break into the mainstream saw two of its players take Oscars home: Geoffrey Fletcher, a virtual unknown won for Best Adapted Screenplay for his adaptation of the novel Precious and of course, Mo’Nique, previously best known for her roles in mediocre WB comedies and raunchy stand-up comedy routines, took it home for her portrayal of Mary Jones.
Mo’Nique’s gotten some flak for her acceptance speech, coming off as ungrateful, when she thanked the Academy for “rewarding performance instead of politics” but I think it’s time for pundits to stop ragging on her for making her busy work and family life a priority over spending time kissing Academy ass to get her award. What was truly interesting was Mo’Nique’s tribute to the first African-American actress to win an Oscar: Hattie McDaniel, who won in 1939 for her role as Mammy in Gone With The Wind. As a tribute to her, Mo’Nique wore a flower in her hair, and a blue dress, just like McDaniel did when she won.
Clips of McDaniel’s acceptance speech have been floating around the Internet today (Twitter superstar Roger Ebert posted a link to his army of followers last night), but sadly, it’s likely that MGM, the studio that had her under contract, wrote the speech for her, which is why it includes the bit about being “a credit to her race.”
Regardless, McDaniel the first African-American to win an Oscar, she was also the first allowed to attend. She couldn’t attend the premiere of Gone With The Wind in Georgia because she was not allowed to be in a “white theater” and even at the award ceremony, she was banished to sit at a table by herself. In the press room backstage, Mo’Nique dedicated her award to McDaniel and said she hopes everyone remembers her legacy: “So for you, Miss Hattie McDaniel, I feel you all over me, and it’s about time that the world feels you all over them.”
Mo’Nique is rumored to be making a film about the life of Hattie McDaniel, so her dress choice may be a mixture of homage and hustle.
Since McDaniel’s win in 1939, only one African-American actress besides Mo’Nique has won the Best Supporting Actress award: Jennifer Hudson’s 2006 win for Dreamgirls.