Mary J. Blige has always been about championing and uplifting the underdog. In the midst of getting us hooked to her role in Power: Book Two, stacking lead roles in a myriad of upcoming films, and executive producing her documentary telling the origins of her legendary My Life album, an initiative contributing to the amplification of the unsung in Hollywood caught the R&B diva, actor and philanthropist’s attention.
Black stunt performers climbing up a steep hill towards equitable opportunity and pay in Hollywood remain to be an unfortunate reality, and for Black women in this space, the fight for increased representation is long overdue, especially in a territory that is often male-dominated. Blige partnered with the skincare company Gold Bond for their “Champion Your Skin” campaign, which celebrates Black stuntwomen and their unrecognized contributions to the blockbusters we see on the big screen and supports Diamond in the Raw, a non-profit organization founded by stuntwoman LaFaye Baker to help girls achieve their dreams. The “Skin Champions Stunt Workshop,” was created to expose girls of color to the possibilities of pursuing a career in the stunt industry.
“Diversity in Hollywood is important to me,” Blige shares with EBONY. “I’ve worked with Black stuntwomen, and I don’t ever want to see a white woman being painted to play one of us. They’re extremely important to people like me.”
“Young girls might want to be stuntwomen—it’s a very rare thing to help them to become that,” Blige continues. “It’s exciting to see young people have something they can look forward to.”
EBONY also got a chance to catch up with the legendary songstress in regards to her new documentary, Mary J. Blige’s My Life, which follows her celebrating 25 years of the life-changing and impactful project. Dig into the conversation below.
EBONY: You’ve been able to see Black stuntwomen at work, especially while on the sets of Power: Book Two and the film The Violent Heart. What about your experience working with them made you want to figure out a valuable way for them to get their due recognition through the “Champion Your Skin” campaign?
Mary J. Blige: The things that they’re trained to do, we’re not physically trained to do. Just watching how they take the fall for us, how they take the bruises for us is an extension of what people think is amazing. I’ve done a lot of my own stunts before, and I don’t mind doing them, but the directors and the presidents of the companies aren’t having it. They go, “Mary’s gonna fall and break her neck”—but I’m just rough like that. And, that’s why these stuntwomen are very important; they’re women taking all this pain on for me.
Pivoting to your My Life documentary that’s premiering on Amazon this month, your storytelling and your music is timeless. It’s a connector for Black women on an intergenerational level. There’s always some level of relatability and vulnerability to your music that brings women of all ages together. What can we expect in terms of how that essence is encapsulated in this documentary film? What was your thought process when putting it together?
It’s pretty amazing to see the perspectives of people that you know that walked through this journey with you—from your fans, to your family, to producers, to people you know in the industry— and that you didn’t know what they were dealing with. I didn’t really know they were going through so much because I was going through so much. So to see what my siblings were dealing with when I was dealing with this, to see what my producers were dealing with, is just to see a different perspective of such a heavy, dark time. And then, the heavy, dark album that transformed a lot of us into better people. So you’re just really going to see that.
To hear the fans speak so candidly about how it delivered them from so many demons and how it made them say, “Damn, I can really be real with myself,” it gives me the chills. I didn’t know so many people felt this way. I did know that the fans were dealing with stuff and going through stuff because when they bought the album, they said, “Mary, me too,” but I didn’t know exactly what they were dealing with. So, it’s a lot of that, and it’s a lot of how the music was made on the My Life album and on What’s the 411. You’ll go through some of my childhood to get to why I was so depressed—but it’s heavy in a triumphant way in an “if I could do it, you could do it” way. My Life is a triumphant album now because we’ll see what it looks like when you’re almost ready to commit suicide, you know? We’re here now to tell the story to a bunch of other generations.
And why do you think this documentary is needed now? Why should people tune in?
I think it’s important because about two years ago I was on the “Royalty” tour. I was celebrating the 25th anniversary of my My Life album and Nas was celebrating the 25th anniversary of his Illmatic album, and there was so much going on at the time. TIME had named it the top 100 albums of all time. Rolling Stone had named it [one of] the 500 greatest albums of all time. This is a R&B album that doesn’t get touched by TIME or Billboard magazine. So when all the celebrating was happening, I said, “Well, I’ve got to celebrate this too.” Plus, a documentary [was] overdue.
You’ve also been recognized at the Apollo Theater on its Walk of Fame, which I think is another opportunity for your legacy to be immortalized. How did you feel when receiving that honor?
That honor was so amazing and important to me because I remember [being] a little girl living in the projects, getting on the train to go to Harlem and shop at High Energy—which was a couple of blocks from the Apollo—and looking at the marquee and seeing who was [performing] there.
The first time I ever stepped foot in the Apollo, I wasn’t even Mary J. Blige “the superstar” yet; I sang background with Jeff Redd. I was still living in the projects, still hustling, still trying to figure out what my life was going to be. It was so emotional because of those times, and the rest is history.
You’re in the Aretha Franklin Respect biopic with Jennifer Hudson, in which you play Dinah Washington. What else is next for you?
We’re in the process of shooting Power: Book II, season two. I have some new music coming. My production company, Blue Butterfly, executive produced my documentary, and it executive produced the Clark Sisters movie on Lifetime. We got a lot [more] stuff coming. Blue Butterfly is official.
Why did you want to start your own production company?
I noticed that we needed more content for us and by us. I especially realized this during the pandemic, during the first round of quarantine. We were already doing what we were doing, but I was like “Wow, we really need more content for us.” I’m happy that my production company Blue Butterfly can provide that.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Mary J. Blige’s My Life drops on Amazon Prime, June 25th.