Mo’Nique and husband Sidney Hicks have their own production company, Hicks Media Productions, and the tale of a devout Christian teenager struggling with his sexual identity moved them so much they signed on as executive producers. “When we got that script and read the first page we said ‘Sign us up’ because it’s a story that’s so brave, so honest and so raw,” she tells us. “We knew we had to be a part of it.”
In the film, Randy, played by the brilliant Julian Walker, has a full plate – going to school, singing in the church choir and caring for his troubled mum, played by Mo’Nique herself. All while coming to terms with being gay and black and falling in love. Penned by novelist Larry Duplechan in 1986 and set in the 70s, it’s a coming of age saga that touched director Patrik-Ian Polk, who with co-writer Rikki BeadleBlair has updated it to present-day.
The wider themes resonated with Baltimore-born Mo’Nique, who’s 47 now and admits to being taunted about her size when she was younger. “It’s all about acceptance – acceptance of oneself and acceptance of other people,” she says of the film, which has been fêted at festivals around the globe. “That’s what we want people to walk away with. When you get a chance to see behind the door and you get a chance to see this young man’s pain, simply because of who he was made to be and he has no control over that, you begin to wonder: ‘Would I want to put that type of hurt on somebody? Would I knowingly do that because they simply want to be who they were made to be?’”
Is she surprised that, nearly three decades since the novel came out, homophobia still exists? She sighs. “We as the human race have to go through our periods of ‘Y’all, this is not making sense.’ There was a time in America where it was against the law for a black person and a white person to be married, until some folks got together and said: ‘Are we crazy? This doesn’t make sense. They’re human beings, they just happen to be another colour.’ We had to come to an acceptance of that.
“Now it’s about the children, who’re children now, who may have their own children – and those children will look back and say: ‘I can’t believe two men couldn’t get married or two women couldn’t get married. I can’t believe this country was like that at one time.’”
She used to wonder if homophobia was more prevalent in the black churchgoing community, with homosexuality being viewed as a sin or a curse. “I was only involved in the black community and the guys I hung around with were black gay guys, so I thought it was their story – until we started taking this film to different festivals and white men came up to me saying, ‘That’s my story too’. Latin men started coming up to me and saying that. And Asian men. I realised it’s not a black gay community issue, it’s happening in all communities.”
In the film, Mo’Nique is dowdy and emotionally disturbed. In reality, she’s cheerful and chilled, declaring, “I’m wonderful, my love,” when asked how her day is going and saying she’s taking our call in “Happy Town USA”. But she’s deadly serious about Blackbird, which she hopes will change people’s prejudices. She’s just been talking to a journalist from a religious publication, who agreed we’re all God’s children. “So I asked her, ‘Would you stand back and let one of your children hurt your other child simply for who they were or what they liked?’ She said that no, she wouldn’t want that. So I asked her, ‘So why would God want that to happen?’”
The journalist, who was a parent, got the message. Mo’Nique herself has three sons and says she’d be fine if any of them turned around and said he was gay. “I would worry about my baby just as much as I would worry about my baby who was heterosexual,” she adds. “If my baby went out at night, me and his daddy would be worried as parents. It’s no different.”
This multi-tasker cut her teeth on the Baltimore stand-up comedy circuit, then broke into TV and film.