With deep roots in comedy, she shocked with a scalding vision of Mary, the Harlem welfare mother so horrifyingly twisted, so fueled by rage that it's a wonder anything she touched survived.
Mo'Nique chewed the character up and spit her out, raw and ugly, never seeking redemption. It was a performance so emotionally wrenching that it left most who watched it weak and shaken. The Oscar she earned Sunday night was just the latest recognition of the risk she took disappearing so convincingly inside Mary's dark soul, becoming someone else, something else.
But I wonder whether it will limit, rather than expand, her prospects. Will filmmakers see only the sassy black comic or the ghetto monster? Will another director see what Lee Daniels did, an artist with boundless potential? Or will she slip back into the comfort zone she's crafted for herself, the BET talk show, the stand-up dates, a secondary player in whatever African American comedy happens along.
At 42, she's the youngest of the winning actors, so there is still time for her to explore other characters, other emotional colors. She certainly hasn't wasted any time courting favors from the Hollywood crowd, with many writing her off as arrogant because of it. Rumors she wouldn't do the Oscar party circuit without pay didn't help.
I'd suggest that insecurity is the more likely culprit. For all her brashness, Mo'Nique remains the outsider, plus-sized and unconventional in looks, that few were interested in before "Precious."
Maybe the Oscar will finally change that.
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