Mary J. Blige’s Real Love
Singer Turned Actress Stands Up in Mudbound
Born in New York City in January 1971, Mary J. Blige rose in stardom at an early age after an impromptu cover song performance of Anita Baker’s hit song “Caught Up in the Rapture” at the Galleria Mall in White Plains, New York. Her mother’s boyfriend recorded the performance and sent the tape to Uptown Records where she was immediately signed as a backing singer and later a solo artist in 1989.
Upon releasing her first album What’s the 411?—which was produced by a young Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs—in 1992, Mary J. Blige’s singing career skyrocketed with the success of the hit songs “Real Love” and “Sweet Thing” (Rufus/Chaka Khan cover song). And due to her effectively blending elements of Hip-Hop and R&B into her music, she was later dubbed the “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.”
After selling over 50 million hit records throughout her career, Mary J. Blige branched off into acting with her debut in a recurring role on The Jamie Foxx Show on The WB in 1998. However, she didn’t make her motion picture debut until a few years later in the small indie film Prison Song in 2001. Ms. Blige continued to make various film appearances in movies like Rock of Ages and Black Nativity, but she never gained awards acclaim until her role in the period piece Mudbound in 2017.
In it, Mary J. Blige plays Florence Jackson, the soft spoken mother of a young WWII American soldier who’s sent to the European front, only to return to the still deeply segregated South. Blige is wonderful in the supporting role, as she provides the film’s heart and strength through hard times and overt racism in the Mississippi Delta in the 1940s.
“I am explosive on stage and expressive, but I’m a quiet storm,” said Mary J. Blige in an interview with IndieWire. “The reason Dee (Rees) wanted me for the role was because I have that character in me.” She continued, “I had to give that quiet to Florence. It’s beautiful to play because that’s a strong character in me.”
Mudbound writer and director Dee Rees earns a lot of the praise in balancing complex stories of working-class African-American sharecroppers at the height of Jim Crow with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in soldiers returning home from the war. “Mary’s able to affect this reserved exterior, but have this very empathetic, alive interior,” said Rees in an interview. “Her eyes always are thinking, you can see the wheels turning. There isn’t this flatness — she has this duality, she can do the affectation and underneath have the real thing.”
Mary J. Blige is nominated for two Golden Globe Awards this year: One for Best Supporting Actress and the other for Best Original Song for “Mighty River,” which she co-wrote and performs for the movie.
Mudbound is now available on Netflix, while Mary J. Blige’s music is available on iTunes and Spotify.