MO’NIQUE

GT (UK) - - SCREEN - WORDS SI­MON BUT­TON

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.

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