Everyone’s psyched about Dreamgirls.
The film is garnering incredible Oscar buzz, I just saw the three biggest stars of the film – Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx, and Beyonce – on the cover of Vanity Fair. (Think fast, when was the last time you saw a black face on the cover of any mainstream fashion magazine? I couldn’t think of another such cover this year. PLEASE correct me if I’m wrong!)
As excited as I am to see Dreamgirls, some of the items I’ve been reading about the film are upsetting to me. First of all, the media has jumped all over this supposed Beyonce versus Jennifer Hudson feud.
Both stars deny any tension, although Beyonce’s quote, “I mean,” said Knowles, “I wish I could’ve gained 20 pounds and played Effie,” is just ridiculous. Effie is about more than just gaining 20 pounds. Effie is about heartbreak and struggle. All I’m saying is, as a woman who has battled weight issues and identifies with Effie, Beyonce’s flippant comment rubbed me the wrong way. She could never, ever, ever be Effie. I’ll get off my Team Chunk soapbox now.
I found Greg Braxton’s fascinating LA Times article about Jennifer Holliday to be even more upsetting. Jennifer Holliday’s life has been defined by Dreamgirls, the musical that made her a Tony Award winning star at age 21. And now that the film is set to be the next Hollywood sensation, the original stars are being cast aside.
Loretta Devine is the only original Broadway cast member to make an appearance. I know there are two sides to every story – perhaps the execs at Paramount and Dreamworks had bad experiences with Holliday and Sheryl Lee Ralph, I don’t know. According to Jennifer Holliday, she was never asked to be in the film or to do publicity.
It leaves a bad taste in my mouth that Jennifer Holliday isn’t making a cameo in the glitzy adaptation, and claims to have been “uninvited” to the film’s premiere.
It’s even worse that the media and advertising has been using Holliday’s version of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” to promote the upcoming film.
In the LA Times article she laments:
“Why is it necessary for them to wipe out my existence in order for them to have their success?” Holliday said. “It’s scary that they can be so cruel. I know it’s business, but why do they have to go to this extreme? I’m a human being. I need to work too. Why do I have to die to make them a winner?”
That, Miss Holliday, is a story as old as Hollywood itself. Young stars are shoved into the spotlight while older acts get overshadowed and ignored.
Think of Ruth Brown’s struggle in the Eighties, to recoup the royalties from the record companies that made their fortunes from her talent. Thank God that the Rhythm and Blues Foundation exists to give respect and financial assistance to forgotten R&B artists who worked hard and were robbed by terrible contracts from the Forties to Seventies.
This awesome MSNBC article highlights the real life forgotten girl groups who helped to inspire the film.
Money and occasional recognition can’t possibly assuage the sting of being literally replaced and erased. The frustration of hearing your voice and talent being used to promote something you’ve been shut out of. Holliday’s co-star, Sheryl Lee Ralph is more philosophical about the snub, explaining to the LA Times : “For us to be so much a part of theatrical history and then to be treated like we did nothing is heartbreaking… I don’t take offense. It’s just show business, baby. I wish them every success.”
But that doesn’t make it right. I have loved Jennifer Hudson since American Idol. I can’t tell you how many times my friend Lauren and I voted for her that season. Jennifer Hudson didn’t win Idol, and she’s had to fight to get the respect she deserves. This role was clearly meant for her – sorry Fantasia, Effie was never the right role for you.
Dreamgirls has shaped Jennifer Hudson’s life as well, in this Boston Globe interview, she confesses how Holliday influenced her. “I didn’t know anything about ‘Dreamgirls,’ ” said Hudson, sitting in a Boston hotel suite. But she was a big fan of Holliday’s recording of the show-stopping, pathos-drenched ballad “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” She liked it so much that she knew when she graduated from singing in the church choir with her grandmother that she wanted to play “Jennifer Holliday” on Broadway.”
Now that she’s playing Jennifer Holliday on the silver screen, I hope that Jennifer Hudson reaches out to her idol to record a duet or something. At the inevitable Academy Award performance, it would be wonderful to watch them share the stage and belt out the ballad that shaped their careers.
It would be even more poignant if they dedicated that performance to the late, great Florence Ballard – the real-life inspiration for the role who left the Supremes in 1967, was horribly screwed over by Motown, and died penniless at the age of 32. Today, she’s a footnote who is referred to as “one of rock’s greatest tragedies.”
Jennifer Holliday has lost 200 pounds, but her voice is still as enormous as ever. I found this video of her looking slim and fabulous, and singing her heart out.
I for one hope that the lyrics actually mean something for her. I hope that it’s a declaration of intent, and that she doesn’t go anywhere. This woman simply has too much talent to just be swept under the showbusiness rug like so many others have been.