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Mary J. Blige

BY CARL KOZLOWSKI CULTURE / FILM / ISSUE 54 November 11, 2011

An influential voice and R&B pioneer for 20 years now, nine-time Grammy Award winner and multi-platinum artist Mary J. Blige’s most recent project put her uncharacteristically behind the scenes. As the primary songwriter for this summer’s hit The Help, Blige found much in her background and American history to inspire her work for this challenging film.

What made you want to be a part of The Help?

“I had an aunt who was a maid. She worked for a wealthy white family that loved her to death— like, really loved her—and she raised their children just like Aibileen [the central maid in the film] would. [To say] to the little girl, ‘You’re smart, you’re kind, you’re important.’ Aibileen’s a survivor. The only way she was gonna survive was through walking in love and forgiveness, and that’s the only way I [have] survived.”

So you felt a particular connection to Aibileen?

“When I saw the film I cried so much. I got angry. I went through so many different emotions, but the thing that stood out to me the most is the courage this woman had. Just based on that alone is what made me say, ‘I’m in.’ But she was like, ‘I’m gonna stand.’ You gotta stand up and have the courage. That woman’s gonna go down in history books.”

The racism depicted in the movie feels so outrageous and blatantly wrong now, but of course, racism still does exist …

“I mean, it’s not as bad as it was, [but there’s] a lot of it still, you know. It’s a lot of back doors, and you can’t get the cover of a magazine because your skin is too dark. Learn this as a part of your history, so in case you run into it, you know what not to do. Because in this film you learn instead of getting angry and getting emotional, [Aibileen] walked off and forgave them.”

Is it appropriate to depict such a painful and insulting history as “entertainment”?

“Yeah, you de nitely have to. It’s important to see how far we’ve come, and it’s also important to see the courage we had to have. Someone had to have the courage to say, ‘I’m gonna talk to save us all.’ Someone has to stand up and break the curse or the cycle or whatever it is so we can all have what we’re supposed to have in life.”

What are issues today you’d like to see people stand up for the way the women in this film did?

“Women and children are suffering greatly, and if people would get together, things could change. But no one wants to—no one has. People are scared because their jobs are like walking on tightropes. It’s hard right now, and people are compromising because they want a paycheck, and I understand that. [People have ] family to feed, but who’s gonna be the sacrificial lamb? Somebody’s gotta do it.”