The Black Monday star looks at the parallels between her characters fight for the credit shes earned and her own career, which has finally moved from underrated to celebrated.
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Regina Hall is delivering a Sermon on the Mount.
Well, its technically a motivational speech more than it is a sermon, and it might border on blasphemy to refer to the cocaine-dusted, greed-stenched cubicles of the circa-1988 Wall Street trading firm where shes delivering it in any relation to the holy landmark. But Ill be damned if Halls delivery isnt a religious experience.
In the Season 2 premiere of Showtimes Black Monday, airing Sunday, Halls Dawn Towner, a brilliant trader whose smarts and wiles have been alternately discounted and taken advantage of because of her race and gender, is finally getting hers. She extricated herself from her longtime partner, Don Cheadles Mo Monroe, to be in charge of her own firm alongside Andrew Rannells Blair Pfaff.
In front of the roomful of female staffers shes assembled for her new mission, shes preaching the hard-earned fruits of her labor, an unlikely triumph over the industrys toxic boys club.
Im not Mo, she starts. Im not a man. As she milks a dramatic crescendo, she takes a pregnant pause. Im a professional... bitch.
The room whoops. It feels like a moment, because it isa kind of moment that Hall is almost peerlessly talented in creating.
The veteran actress career burgling scenes in memorable supporting roles has experienced a tangible level-up in recent years, with her work in the blockbuster phenom Girls Trip, the critically adulated Support the Girls, and the crowd-pleasing studio comedy Little, which she also executive produced. You see that reflective confidence in Black Monday.
Its a thrill to watch Hall escalate a monologue like this, full of raunch and bombast, yet still wildly, humanly invigorating. As Dawn, with the shoulder pads of her bright red 80s power suit boxing out her frame, she resembles a Working Girl warrior, or, as her physicality dials up to match the emotional volume of her voice, a football player doing a touchdown dance.
Ladies, the world is finally changing! she continues. Look at this place. Weve shattered the glass ceiling. Who cares if it takes a minute for the men to recognize us? The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. She starts to resemble one of those cartoons where the mercury rises in a thermometer until it explodes out the top like a geyser. One of the women shes speaking to screams in approval: Martin Luther Queen!
Theres one last message Dawn wants to leave the women with, one that will have you hollering along from your couch. Impossible? she says, addressing any skepticism of her ambition. I am a black woman with my own trading firm on Wall Street in 1988. I might as well have just stepped out of a motherfucking DeLorean from the motherfucking future. Impossible can suck my dick.
Hall blushes slightly at the memory of the monologue, though its balls to the wall tone, she says, is exactly why she wanted to be a part of this show, which was created by Happy Endings alum David Caspe and his writing partner, Jordan Kahan.
I love that theyve created Dawn to be someone who is believable as one of the fellas, but still always a lady, she says, a smirk creeping across her face. Or a bitch.
And while it goes without saying that she appreciates the message of the monologue Dawn delivers, its the tone and the expletive-ridden, unapologetic verbiage that makes her most giddy. These women are so used to listening to men say these things in that way, she says. To instead be a woman in that world and getting to say that, thats what was so great.
Black Monday knots viewers into a complicated tangle of scheming, dealings, and cover-ups centering around a volatile cocktail of Wall Street personalities at a pivotal time in the late 80s. But theres an unmistakable draw at the center of it all in Halls performance and Dawns achingly relatableand, pathetically, still-resonantcharacter arc.
Dawn is a woman 30 years ago who was the smartest person in any room she walked into. Usually, she was the only woman in any of those rooms, too, and discounted because of it. Fed up, she wants to run her own shit. And she wants the credit for doing it, too.
To be able to run her own shit, surrounded by all this female power, wearing her little red power suit and her new look that says, Im the boss, I think it was probably exhilarating, Hall says. You know, it was an exhilarating moment to be able to look at an office full of women and know that like, not only are you a part of it, but your genius created it. I get that feeling.
Halls been commanding notice for her genius for a while now: More than 50 acting credits on iMDB, by a rough count, stretching back to her breakout year in 2000 with memorable roles in Love & Basketball and, most notably, Scary Movie.
The latter premiered her signature, unbridled comedy chops, a gale force of unfiltered energy let loose with a startling, cant-be-bothered hilarity. (Try finding someone better at cursing than Regina Hall.) The former hinted at something else, a vulnerability and quiet that could at times be as romantic as it is relatable, particularly as Hall ascended to leading-lady status in recent years.
She knows theres been a measurable shift in her visibility and in the recognition of her work, particularly after a string of performances that includes Girls Trip, Black Monday, Little, The Hate U Give, and Support the Girls, which won her the Best Actress prize from the New York Film Critics Circle and drummed up nods for a slew of indie film prizes in the 2019 award season.
Her talent hasnt suddenly improved; thats always been there. But the successes now seem different.
Yeah, it feels changed, she says. The opportunities feel different, too. The stuff Im getting to do, it feels exciting. Yeah... changed.
She had a unique, illuminating way of explaining it in an interview with The New York Times, particularly eye-opening for white media and members of the industry who arent as attuned to the realities of the black experience in Hollywood as they might think. Ive always had steady work, but I guess there are lists in Hollywood, she said. I was on the top of one before; now Im on the bottom of a more difficult one.
There are films with predominantly black casts, she explained, and one list for that. (Underscoring how limited even that list can be, at a press conference for Black Monday later in the afternoon that we meet, a journalist confused her with Oscar-winner and Watchmen star Regina King.) But for films with roles that could be played by anybody, regardless of race or skin color, theres an entirely different list.
I remember there was a script that I read that I loved, and my agent told me, They went after Amy Adams, and shes not doing it, she told the Times. And I said, Ill do it! And he was like, They love you, but theyre going to Natalie Portman. Oh, right. Theres always another.
There is poetic tragedy in the speech Dawn gives in the Season 2 premiere of Black Monday. Its 1988, and here is a black woman cheering what she thinks is a shattering of the glass ceiling, the arrival and acceptance of women of color and institutional change at last. Yet were watching the episode in a cultural setting three decades later, heartbroken for Dawn, so unaware of just how much longer that ceiling will be bulletproof.
Theres a poignant flashback to when Dawn and Cheadles character, Mo, decide to start their own firm together. She was under the impression that they were going to be partners, but he blindsided her by only allowing her to be head traderhis employee. When she protests that she deserves more, he chastises that she should be grateful for the opportunity that hes giving her, because no one else will even do that.
A woman of color in a white, male-dominated industry is forced to settle for whatever crumbs of opportunity shes given, no matter if her talent warrants the whole pie. Its a familiar position.
I knew that feeling, Hall says. I am sure its happened to me. I related to it completely. You might get used to it. I think you also get very used to plowing ahead and becoming more determined, not allowing situations like that to stop you. I think that's what all movements have done. You know what I mean? You fight the good fight.
That fight has yielded certainly victories for Hall, particularly in recent years. Shes also broadened the scope of it, following paths forged by the likes of Kerry Washington, Reese Witherspoon, Viola Davis, and more by executive producing the projects shes involved with, including Black Mondayher first time taking on such role on a TV showand the upcoming film, Master, which she also stars in.
It's been great because you get to have a voice, she says. For me, it didn't come too soon. There was so much that I needed to learn. That I did learn. That helped me feel like, OK, now I have a certain amount of understanding and I have a certain amount of wisdom that I can actually bring to a project that makes it worthy.
And while she may be stopping short of peacocking around the office Dawn-style, bragging about being a professional bitch or pronouncing all glass ceilings shattered, she knows the weight of the momentthat turning point when an actor becomes somewhat of a forceand the impact that can have in changing the game for others, particularly women of color in her industry.
Asked what she wants to do with her career now that she has this pull, the first thing she says is that she wants to start producing for other people.
Its this perfect storm brewing, she says. For where this individual is, but for where the industry is as well.