Of all the names that came up during a typically contentious Golden Globes nominations announcement in Beverly Hills this week, Mary J. Blige’s was perhaps the least controversial. Critics have lavished praise on the soul queen’s magnetic turn as Florence Jackson, a stoic housewife in Dee Rees’s civil rights drama “Mudbound,” many noting how she disappeared completely into the role.
Blige, who got an acting coach to help her prepare, revealed at an awards season screening of the low-budget Netflix movie in Los Angeles last week that Rees wanted to strip away the star’s diva persona.
“Dee just said, ‘Get rid of Mary J. Blige, period’ and it was hard to pull away from her because, you know, she’s been around. But Dee kept her foot down and said Florence doesn’t need to have anything to be beautiful,” said Blige, 46.
“She really put into perspective the things that I was holding onto that deem me beautiful, like lashes and stupid stuff like that. But Florence liberated me once she was born. She helped give me a whole bunch of new confidence.”
The New York native joined an exclusive club when she was nominated for best supporting actress and again, seconds later, for her song “Mighty River,” written specially for the movie.
Only six performers had previously earned song-writing and acting nominations for the Globes, the last of them John C Reilly for “Walk Hard” a decade ago.
The real icing on the cake came on Wednesday, when she was nominated for best supporting actress at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, seen as a better bellwether for Oscars success than the Globes.
Rex Reed of the New York Observer describes Blige as “mesmerising” in “Mudbound,” while for Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, she “imbues Florence with such grit and radiant grace” that she deserves an Oscar nomination.
The adaptation of Hillary Jordan’s 2009 novel tells the sprawling, epic story of a black and a white family living and working side by side in the rural American south during the Jim Crow era of segregation and open discrimination.
Bound together as tenant and owner on shared farmland in the Mississippi Delta, the relationship between the neighbours is strained when young men from each clan return from the horrors of World War II.
The film stands out as a rare example of a Western which employs women in the lion’s share of creative jobs, with Rees relying on a trusted inner circle including cinematographer Rachel Morrison, makeup head Angie Wells, composer Tamar-kali, sound engineer Pud Cusack, and editor Mako Kamitsuna.
“I think women are the centre, period. We always hold things together. We suffer quietly because we have to, but we are powerful people,” said Blige, to cheers from the audience in Los Angeles.
“Mudbound” co-stars Carey Mulligan and Jason Clarke as white sharecroppers Henry and Laura McAllan, Jason Mitchell as the Jacksons’ eldest son Ronsel and Garrett Hedlund as Henry’s brother Jamie.
A central theme of the movie is the manner in which people focus on their hatred of “the other” as a means of avoiding their own problems. — AFP