Tonight on HBO is the premiere of Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley. The documentary details the impact of the legendary comedian with Eddie Murphy, Kathy Griffin and, of course, Whoopi Goldberg. In her directorial debut, Goldberg educates and entertains about an iconic woman many have forgot, Moms Mabley.
There are many similarities between Mabley and Goldberg. Both broke down barriers for women, both experienced racism and both are legends. In our interview with Whoopi Goldberg, she talks Moms and her own controversial career.
Why do you think Moms Mabley doesn't get the recognition she deserves?
A lot of folks that are out there teaching don't know about her — they're too young! [Laughs] If you were a little kid at the beginning of the struggle, it might not have the same significance. For the longest time, if you said you were going to be a comic they just thought you were low. [Laughs] People thought, "Well, if you're going to uplift the race you gotta be a doctor or a lawyer. Comedian? Really?" Not realizing the impact, particularly Moms Mabley was going to have, especially being the first.
We were surprised to learn in your documentary that Moms Mabley was a lesbian, but it seemed like a non-issue. Do you think she experienced homophobia or had to repress herself?
There had been rumors [that Mabley was a lesbian] but one of things I didn’t want to do was put anything in that I didn't have absolute proof of. When that Christmas card popped up: "Happy Holidays from Mister Mom." [Laughs] I was like, "Well, here it is!" It's right here and Norma [Miller, Mabley's friend] said, "We didn't call her gay — that was Mister Moms and that's who she was." It had nothing to do with anybody else. That's the key: it was nobody's business.
I doubt that Moms Mabley and so many others of her time knew they were blazing a trail and breaking down barriers. Are you aware you have kicked the doors down for women and African-Americans in Hollywood?
No! [Laughs] To tell you the truth, it started it out with, "Why do you look like that? You're not representing us! Why do you sound like that? You don't sound like us!" Then on the other side it was, "Why do you speak that way?" It was like a sandwich with Whoopi in the middle — I was getting hit by both sides. I just figured people will either like me or they won't. My mother said to me when I was young, "If you're going to be an independent spirit, you have to understand that not everybody's going to like you. Not everybody's going to get you. If you can take the slings and arrows, you'll be fine."
In Moms Mabley's time, she experienced racism from whites. I can recall in the '80s and '90s, you, Whitney, Michael Jackson and Oprah, you all experienced this backlash from the Black community, saying you weren't "Black" enough. Were you hurt by those comments from your "own people?"
I didn't understand it! [Laughs] When somebody says to you, as dark as I am, "You're not Black enough," it's like, "What are you talking about?" It's not like I got up yesterday and I was Asian. What do you mean? Oh, you just want me to be your idea of what a Black person is? You just have to say, "You're right, I'm probably not Black enough for you. So why are you here?" I am who I am. I'm never going to be anybody's ideal. So I'll just be Whoopi.
What do you think was the magic of Moms Mabley?
Truth. Plain and simple. It's the greatest thing ever. That's the magic of Moms. She told the truth and she told it well.
Check out the video below of the red carpet premiere of Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley at the legendary Apollo Theater.
(Photo: Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic/Getty Images)