When Donald Glover strikes, he likes to do it on multiple fronts. So it should come as no surprise that, days after the release of his highly-touted musical-film Guava Island co-starring Rihanna, he unceremoniously dropped a cinematic short doubling as a commercial for his new Adidas basketball shoes and co-starring Mo'Nique. Glover is one of few auteurs who can oscillate from lush Amazon Prime feature with one of our biggest pop stars to YouTube vignettes alongside an entertainer who in some areas, was viewed as a potential pariah, without missing a beat.
Both Guava Island and the Adidas Originals short—which comprises four vignettes titled Timber, Avocado, Polenta and Dusty—are beautifully shot and visually engrossing but for my money, the latter is the more compelling, glorified commercial though it may be. The vignettes are gloriously mysterious, opening in media res and eschewing any exposition about the setting let alone nature of Donald and Mo'Nique's relationship. Mo'Nique is a big part of the appeal, for whom the vignettes essentially serve as a showcase for as much as they do the shoes. The laughs in the commercial come immediately, before she graces the screen, but once she does the floor is hers. Donald cedes much of the spotlight to her, as a mostly silent foil to her barrages of classic Mo'Nique comedy.
On first viewing, her presence is surprising and unexpected but welcomely so, similar to Katt Williams' equally scene-stealing appearance as Earn's uncle in Atlanta. Both instances represented a sentiment of Donald reaching out to a figure who it seemed the culture had written off and certainly someone in his position might not go out of their way to work with. Their inclusion—and subsequent knocking out of the park—speaks to a feeling of respecting these people for their legacy beyond what current headlines and drama they might attract, valuing them for the talent they clearly still possess above all. After endless rewinding of Mo'Nique's hilarious turn in the Adidas commercial, Complex reached out to her to discuss how this all came about and what it meant to her to have someone like Donald reach out.
The Adidas commercial kind of took everyone by surprise. No one knew what to expect from it but my immediate reaction watching it was this is hilarious. You are such a big part of that and the whole thing just feels effortlessly hilarious and so casual. I really just want to know everything about the experience that you feel comfortable talking about.
Oh, baby, I feel comfortable talking about whichever way you want to go. What I will say is that Donald Glover—it was refreshing to see him be beautifully brilliant. And his team, like, that black man and his team were so beautiful, Frazier, and that's why if it appeared effortless, it was because when you're around brilliant minds and there are no egos and there are no "I got to be in charge." Everybody was just team. So, when that brother said "Action!" everybody was team. Nobody was the star, nobody was beneath, it was just team.
So, how did it come about in the first place? Did he reach out to you?
Well, Fam Rothstein, who is one of Donald Glover's teammates, and a sister named Sylvia, they called and spoke to my husband, who everybody knows is my manager. They spoke to Sydney, and when I say it was a beautiful negotiation? It was the way it's supposed to be done. It was professional people dealing with professional people, and we made something beautiful. I wish every deal and every phone call could be the one that came in from Fam Rothstein and Sister Sylvia. I wish they could be that way because it makes it so much easier.
Going off of that, for the past year or so you've been vocal about your struggles within the industry and negotiating with other parties, so how refreshing was that to be in a situation where you felt respected and everyone was on an even keel?
Well, that lets you know that there are still those out there who don't believe fair is a bad word. So, when you say "how refreshing," I remember at the end of the shoot, I asked Donald if could I talk to him and his team, and it was one of those moments that brought tears to my eyes to say to those brothers, "This is how it's supposed to be." And to treat a black woman with such respect and honor, that for me goes down in my history book, to say there are still those out there that treat us with the respect we're supposed to be treated with. They're still out there and I know it seems like we got to dig deep, but dammit his name is Donald Glover.
Was this the first time that you met him?
Okay. So, when you did meet him, it almost feels like he kind of—because there's a point last year where I think you were expressing feelings of abandonment and that people you expected to have your back in some of these situations didn't or at least, didn't speak up. So, it almost felt like him reaching out to you for this was, in addition to casting you for your talent, a validation and show of solidarity as well.
Well, you know, there are those, Frazier, that say, "I'm not going to get caught up in the b.s. of this" because they know what it is to be a black entertainer. And then some of the black male entertainers, through having conversations, they empathize with the black female entertainer because they know what it is. They know that we're at the bottom of the totem pole. So, again, when you have Fam Rothstein who called with, "Listen, we want to honor this sister. We know about her 30-year career, so we're not coming in disrespectful. We're not coming in as if we're doing her a favor. We're coming in trying to put these two brilliant talents together. Does Mo'Nique want to play?" And I'm like, with that brilliant mind, yes, I want to play.
Had you been a fan of Donald's work before this? Like have you seen Atlanta and stuff?
Let me tell you something, when "This Is America" came out, I was stuck to Donald Glover, because it was honest and he was fearless and he was unapologetic about it. That's why I appreciate him. He's unapologetically Donald Glover. He's unapologetically Childish Gambino. He's unapologetically himself, and that's what—when people say, because you're not the first, "that looked so effortless. It looked like y'all were just having fun." It's because you had two people that were unapologetically who they were. And I believe that's what you get when you get those people together.
One of my favorite things about him that's part of his being unapologetic is that he doesn't go out of his way to explain himself or his art, which definitely extends to this. The narrative that's happening in this short doesn't really reveal itself or announce itself to be anything more than just what you're seeing. So, I'm interested to know how he kind of explained this setup to you and pitched it creatively.
Well, when he said, here it is Mo'Nique. What you think? Let's go. That's what it was. See, again, people want this special formula that took place like, "What was it? What happened?" But when you have someone that says, "Listen, I don't have to go into depth as to what I'm doing. You let your mind take you where you want it to take you. You go wherever you want to go with it." I appreciate that and that's what those commercials are. You let your mind go where you want to go...but make sure you go to Adidas and get the damn tennis shoes. [laughs] It was so beautiful because it was as if I was in purgatory and here he comes now because it's like if you hear one of the commercials, it says, "I knew you would show up. I knew you would show up. I know what it is." It was showing how you're unapologetic, you keep going, you keep moving, you keep living, you keep dreaming. So, I appreciate that brother saying, you figure it out for you. What did you take from it? Don't just take my word, you figure it out for yourself. But, again, make sure you get the damn [basketball] shoes while you figuring it out.
Which was your favorite of the four scenes?
All of them. All of them. All of it is my favorite because I'm walking in the midst of a dream.
I personally think I laughed the hardest at the kitchen scene with the grits.
Yes, baby, because it's real. That's what makes you laugh the hardest. It's like how do y'all take grits and make them something elite, and fancy, and bougie? They grits, baby. Salt, butter, sugar. Come on. "The viscosity," what the hell? [laughs] What the hell!? What the hell!? Yes, it was a great time, Frazier.
So, in this process of him letting you figure out where you wanted to go, was filming it kind of an ad-lib situation and improv, or was it more tightly scripted?
Lightly scripted and some of it was, let's just go. Let's go. And it wasn't so much that he wanted me to figure it out because we were clear about what it was. But when you watch Brother Donald, Brother Donald is not cookie cutter. That's why people love him so much because he's not cookie cutter. He doesn't play it safe. He plays it Donald. So, it's up to you to figure out what did that mean for me. Because everybody going to take something different from it. So, it's like what did it mean to you? What does viscosity mean to you, Frazier? It's up to you baby.
What did you take from it?
I took a genius from it. I took this young man who is an absolute genius and for me it goes deeper than the talent. To talk to Donald Glover when ain't no cameras rolling, when ain't nobody around, he's a good brother. He's a good brother in his heart. And the people around him, they're good brothers. I have to keep saying that, Frazier, because I've been in this game for 30 years, and I've worked with some people, baby, that it was work. What I did with Donald was play. Because I've worked with some black men that [made you ask], "Would you treat your mother this way? Would you treat your sister this way?" I've worked with black men who weren't concerned [about] how I got back home from the set, after working 23 hours. But then to work with Donald Glover and his team, and they wanted to make sure that you have enough waters in your trailer. "Is the fruit okay? Is this nice? Is that nice?" They were checking the whole way through. That has nothing to do with entertainment, that has everything to do with your upbringing.
Now, that black man that I'm speaking about that didn't know how to do that, his name was Will Packer. So, I want to play it fairly because I've worked with some beautiful brothers and I don't want people to be guessing with me. But I remember the last thing I did working with that black man it was a little disappointing, so when you see a brother like Donald Glover and his team, and not only were they making sure I was okay, I had a team with me. They made sure everybody was okay. So, when you say it looks effortless, it can look effortless and be effortless because you feel good from the time you show up to the time you leave. They're not just dynamic when they say, action, these babies were dynamic when wasn't a damn camera rolling. So, again, that's one of the brothers that we must support. And when I tell y'all go get that baby sneakers, go get that baby sneakers. Look, I sound like his aunt now. [pantomimes fawning family member] "Go get my baby sneakers. Now, y'all go get it for him. Go get it."
Actually, the interplay between you two does kind of feel like an aunt-nephew thing. At least it kind of reminded me of some of my interplay with my aunts actually.
Yeah, because what you see is, you see this woman that loves her baby. That's her baby—but she going to get on his ass. She love her baby, but she going to get on his ass. She gon make her baby some grits because she knows he's not having no good food. She knows he's not. She knows ain't nobody telling him, "Listen, you do have a little bread loaf around your middle section," and don't get in your feeling. Because that's her baby, she wants him to be okay. "Listen here boy, if you don't put some lotion around your damned ankle," but she love him. It was just beautiful, Frazier. Like I can't say enough goodness about that young man. For as talented as he is, his heart is a thousand times more.
With you guys developing such a quick chemistry and such mutual respect, are we going to see you work together more? Like I'm already picturing you in the next season of Atlanta.
When Donald Glover says, "Hey Mo, you want to come play?" I'm going to say, "When and where baby?" And I'm sure if I said, "Hey Donald, you want to come play?" I'm sure that baby would say, "When and where?"
Beautiful. Now, did Adidas send you any personal pairs?
They ain't came in the mail yet, Frazier, that's all I'm going to say about it, okay? Okay? I'm going to say they ain't came in the mail yet. They know I'm a size 11 women, Frazier. That's all I'm going to say about it, Frazier.
Well, maybe after this goes up they'll check the shipping.
You know, that's all I'm going to say. They just got to send me the tracking number, baby, that's all. They on their way, Frazier, now.
Mo'Nique, what is next for you in the grand scheme of things going forward this year?
I hope tomorrow, brother. You know, when I get asked that question—you know I have a residency over in Las Vegas. And I'm enjoying that and that's through the summertime. And I'm having a great time with that, but when people say, "Mo'Nique, what's next for you?" There was a time, Frazier, I would run down my resúmé, baby. I'd run it down. And then the universe said, "Is that what you think? Because we got something different." So [when asked] what's next for me I always say [now], I hope I get a chance to see tomorrow because today is extremely beautiful.