Mary J. Blige’s Pain Was The Muse For Her Role In The Film Mudbound

Directed by Dee Rees, the Netflix movie Mudbound tells the parallel stories of two families living on a farm in Mississippi near in the end of the European theater of World War II.  One of the families is a white middle-class household headed by Tom McAllen. 

He has plunged all his savings into purchasing a plot of land.  The field hands are a mixture of black and white families, all of whom are browned by the soil from which the crops to grow.  

The Jackson family is black with three younger children and an elder son who went off to fight in the war. Tumult arises when Ronsel returns home to the Mississippi Delta, war-weary and disheartened that he has gone from liberator in Europe, to just another son of a black sharecropper in Mississippi. The fighting spirit and pride he learned overseas is not welcome in the Jim Crow South.

Starring Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell, Garrett Hedjund, Mary J. Blige, Jason Clarke and Rob Morgan, Mudbound has been applauded by critics from all over the spectrum, from its breathtaking cinematography to the subtle manner in which racism and violence are simply alluded to throughout the film.  

Mudbound | Official Teaser [HD] | Netflix

Two families working the Mississippi Delta, but living worlds apart. A Netflix film, Mudbound | Premiering November 17. Watch Mudbound on Netflix: SUBSCRIBE: About Netflix: Netflix is the world’s leading Internet television network with over 100 million members in over 190 countries enjoying more than 125 million hours of TV shows and movies per day, including original series, documentaries and feature films. Members can watch as much as they want, anytime, anywhere, on nearly any Internet-connected screen.

The actors are fully-fleshed and breathing within the dimensions of the film.  Mary plays Florence Jackson, wife of Hap and loving mother to Ronsel.  To me, it was her most stellar performance of any kind in decades.   

Due to her somewhat surprising, stellar performance, Mary has been nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress. 

A looming question after watching the film  was where did MJB pull this performance from. Like many of her past musical works, her role as Florence was culled from real life angst.

I was already miserable, and I was already suffering, and I had all this heaviness,” Blige told the audience after a recent New York City screening of the film during a Q&A session with radio personality Angie Martinez. “The insecurity of not really knowing whats going on.  I didnt know what was going to happen in my life.  I knew that I was hurting really bad and that something had to give. And I gave all my heaviness, insecuritiesI was mad insecure after so many years of being beaten down mentally. I just gave everything to Florence. 

When Dee (The director) said no makeup, no wigs, no eyelashes,’ I was like Damn, was she born with lashes? Can I have a wavy wig instead of my texture of hair?  You know, Ive been rocking wigs and stuff for years because I was scared to show my forehead, and the texture of my hair, to me, was wack.  But once I surrendered to Florence, I can wear my own edges out now.

Mary J. Blige and Dee Rees on ‘Mudbound’ – BBC Newsnight

Emily Maitlis speaks to Mary J. Blige and director Dee Rees about Netflix’s Oscar hopeful Mudbound. Newsnight is the BBC’s flagship news and current affairs TV programme – with analysis, debate, exclusives, and robust interviews. Website: YouTube: Twitter: Facebook: Snapchat:

By the time I surrendered to Florence, and her four dresses and her little wooden shoes, I was running from trailer to trailer with my own afro out, just free,” Mary continued. “She just really gave me a new sense of confidence.  And Dee Rees, whos amazing, she stood her ground and said, ‘No, were just going to make Florence beautiful.’  The women back then didnt care about any of this.  This woman was my grandmother, this was my aunt, I saw this woman without a strip of makeup on.  She knew who she was. So, Dee helped with the transformation.

Of course, Tasha Smith is my acting coach and Id run over to Tashas house crying.  Tasha said Stop right there.  I need you to give all this shit to Florence.  Those were her exact words. And I did exactly that and let Florence live.

Decades ago, black musicians and rappers weren’t taken very seriously as actors when they landed roles in major feature films. That has changed thanks to some paradigm shifting performances by the likes of Mos Def, Will Smith, Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah and Ice Cube, among others. 

Mary was ardent in communicating her respect for the craft, and the work that she put in.

As an actress, I dont want to do it any other way,” she said. “We watched Meryl Streep and Viola Davis and Angela Bassett, they make us feel something.  I want people to feel something when they watch me act.  I dont want people to say Oh, she just got a role because shes Mary J. Blige.  I want them to be affected by my music, I want them to be affected by my acting, because I want to always earn everything I have.

Though well-written, directed and shot, Mudbound is rough to watch in some areas due to racial violence and personal interactions that were contemporary to those times.  For MJB, the film was heavy for another reason.

Mudbound | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix

Struggling to survive, two families work the same land in the Mississippi Delta but live worlds apart. Directed by Dee Rees, Mudbound | A Netflix film, November 17.

When I went to see it at the Sundance for the first time with the cast, I cried,” she said. “I had never seen it in the movies yet.  When I saw the character I just cried because I wasnt there.  It wasnt me.  It was my grandma, it was my auntie, it was Florence.  I cried because it was like, ‘Whered she come from?’

We work hard for everything,” Blige continued. “Nobody gives us anything.  So, it feels good to know that I worked hard and people are recognizing me as an actress. That is a beautiful thing. Im just so grateful and humbled by the whole thing.

This film has many lessons that are relevant to modern times, but Mary has her own lesson she feels viewers can learn.

No matter what race or color we are, were in this together,” she said. “All the events that are taking place, and everything thats happening right now, were in this together.  We all belong, were all supposed to be here.  We should respect each other and treat each other like that.  This is not a game.

Mudbound is now available on Netflix and will show in select theaters nationwide.  

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