Vanessa Roth: ‘I appreciate what Mary J. Blige means to so many people’

Mary J. Blige

It’s a heartfelt documentary that entertains and sometimes awes, just like its subject and in the film, the queen of hip-hop soul makes it clear that she, like everyone else, suffers. Directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker, Vanessa Roth, “Mary J. Blige’s My Life” is a close look at the nine-time Grammy award winner’s world with a particular focus on a period, Blige calls the darkest time in her life.

“We are focused on one album, which is the ‘My Life’ album and what led her to make that album, and how she feels about it since,” says Roth, who skillfully weaves together a moving portrait.

Mary J. Blige’s My Life

Blige, has increasingly mined the traumas of her own life with music since she burst on the scene in 1992, and although she has released 13 albums since then, her second album, she says, is her most important.

“It was at a very vulnerable, challenging and difficult time for her,” Roth shares. “She really wanted a film that would be this sort of love letter to her younger self, her fans and to the people that she had worked with at the time. This is a documentary about the person behind all of that and what it has taken to be where she is today.”

Mary J. Blige – COURTESY OF AMAZON STUDIOS

We learn through interviews that life has not been much of an easy ride for the singer, producer and actress who created a multi-platinum career singing heartbreaking songs about hardship. In the documentary, Blige is raw and candid as she openly shares her struggles with drugs and depression that inspired the album and propelled her from the soul-crushing world of New York’s housing projects to international stardom. During that period, she says she didn’t want to live and didn’t love herself. She talks frankly about meeting Andre Harrell, the music executive who traveled to her Yonkers’s project, auditioned her, and signed her.  She talks about her love affair with K-Ci Hailey, from the soul group Jodeci, and there’s a live performance of the album for the first time.

Director Vanessa Roth

Using 2D animation, concert footage and interviews with Blige and those closest to her, Roth delivers an endearing and heartbreaking film. This portrait of the private performer that emerges is a considerate and respectful collaboration. More telling is the way in which Roth reveals Blige as someone much more vulnerable than the tough public persona we have come to know and it’s difficult not to appreciate the style, rhythm, and impact of Mary’s music.

“She is the executive producer, and I was there to serve this story for her and to work with her and collaborate with her. I think we collectively achieved what she wanted, which is to give this gift to her fans and to people who maybe don’t know enough about her yet,” shares the filmmaker who has won awards for her works, including a 2008 Academy Award for Best Short Documentary for “Freeheld,” an Emmy Honors Award for Social Impact and a IDA Nomination for best doc series for her Netflix series, “Daughters of Destiny.”

“I have always been a fan of Mary’s,” Roth continues. “But until I made this film, I had not done the deep dive that I now have, and I have come to honor and appreciate what she means to so many people. Mary’s profound relationship with her fans goes far beyond that of most celebrities. Add to that her significant contributions to music, fashion, culture, mental health, ideas of self-love and empowerment for women — especially women of color — and you realize what an extraordinary figure she is. It was exciting to excavate all that and learn about the real Mary J. Blige.”

“Mary J. Blige’s My Life” is a satisfying piece that will please fans as it offers fascinating glimpses into her life and gives us a fuller portrait of the performer.

The documentary releases on Amazon Prime video on Friday June 25.

Check out the trailer below;

Samantha Ofole-Prince is a Los Angeles based journalist and movie critic who covers industry-specific news. Follow her on twitter @samanthaofole

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