Like her or not, Mo’Nique is a powerhouse actress

Written by on May 5, 2023

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

I missed “The Reading” when it premiered earlier this year on BET+.

Don’t come for me.

Who besides Tyler Perry devotees has a subscription to BET+? My mom might have one because she loves TP’s bad-movie-making behind. On second thought, she doesn’t have one because she doesn’t know how to work the internet. 

In fact, I only saw the film because I was sent a screener. (One of those things production companies send critics to get us to watch movies they have coming out).  

And let me tell you, I’m happy I viewed that screener. 

Mo'Nique, The Reading, Mo'Nique actress, Black horror films,
Mo’Nique stars as Emma Leeden in “The Reading” on BET+.(Screenshot)

She is problematic. She is full of herself. And I didn’t love her most recent comedy special on Netflix, but I’d forgotten how good Mo’Nique can be when you let her cook.

The film is good, but don’t expect great cinema.  

It is a nail-biting, dread-inducing horror tale with a dark sense of humor. In many ways, it reminds me of Ari Aster’s “Hereditary” and “Midsommar.” The direction is passable (not awe-inspiring). And the lighting in more than a few scenes is a bit dark for my taste. 

This would be a wholly immemorable film if it were not for one thing: Mo’Nique is acting her butt off. 

The story is convoluted, but Mo’Nique’s role is simple: She plays a character named Emma Leeden, who has written a book to help her cope with the fact that her husband and two children were killed in a home invasion. She agrees to have a staged reading by a character named Sky Brown (Chasity Sereal) to promote the book, and all hell breaks loose. The supernatural shenanigans that ensue strain credulity, but none of that matters. Sure, it’s fun if you’re into horror movies, but this would be a wholly forgettable film if it were not for Mrs. Mo’Nique Angela Imes Hicks.

But it is not forgettable. Not in the slightest. 

Mo’Nique gives a powerhouse performance. She won’t get nominated for anything because this film is on a forgettable service with limited reach, but had this been on Amazon or Netflix, she would be a frontrunner to win a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie.

She is that good.

The same pathos and emotional depth she brought to “Precious” is on display in this film. The pride of Baltimore, Maryland breathes life into a movie that would be marginal at best otherwise. She blows the other actors off the screen with her ability to bring emotional depth to her character, and it is a revelation to watch her work. She must know that this is not a role that will bring her the adulation she seeks, but that does not keep her from putting her all into this performance.

I always felt like Mo’Nique got a raw deal. If she were white, Hollywood would have consistently put her in roles that were worthy of her talent. There is no shortage of difficult leading women in the film industry. Jennifer Lopez, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston — they are all notoriously difficult to work with (reportedly), yet they continue to get roles that showcase what they do best. 

And most of them don’t even have an Oscar. 

Yet, Mo’Nique is burdened with a reputation for being demanding and hard to work with, and, for that, she is blackballed in the industry.

I get it. Personally, I don’t much like her either. I find her self-aggrandizing and demanding. She is not very kind to reporters and too often demands that people kneel at her Oscar-winning feet.

But her acting talent is undeniable. She has come a long way from “The Parkers” and “Phat Girlz.” Mo’Nique is a force to be reckoned with. 

I hope she gets more work worthy of her soon. Her talent is dying on the vine. “The Reading” made me want to see her again on the big screen. I hope it happens soon.  

Lawrence Ware is a teaching assistant professor of philosophy at Oklahoma State University and co-director of the Center for Africana Studies.

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