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February 13, 2018

Mary J. Blige Sticks With Netflix to Play a Superhero-Hunting Assassin in ‘The Umbrella Academy’

This will be the current Oscar nominee’s first regular series role and a great next step for her career on screen.

Netflix’s adaptation of “The Umbrella Academy” is already shaping up to be something memorable. Based on a kooky comic about maladjusted superheroes — so, perhaps not that kooky considering the landscape of entertainment these days — the show has already racked up some stellar casting choices that are enough to keep us intrigued. Now it turns out that Mary J. Blige will be joining the series, too, and this is exciting for a number of reasons.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Blige is set to become a series regular on The Umbrella Academy, a 10-part series about a family of adopted superheroes who try to solve the death of their estranged father. Blige will embody the character Cha-Cha, one half of a murderous duo with no compunctions about being extra bloody and gory about their exploits. Along with her partner Hazel, Cha-Cha is an assassin-for-hire and travels through time in order to hunt superheroes.

Cha-Cha is actually a man in the “Umbrella Academy” comics, and it’s great that Netflix is not only genderbending the character but committing to more inclusion by hiring a black actress. But Cha-Cha in the comics is also set apart from his other half, Hazel, by donning a giant blue bear face basically all of the time, and that’s definitely something the Netflix adaptation ought to leave out. Nobody should hide Blige behind a ridiculous animal mask. Per THR:

“Even though [Cha-Cha] has a few gripes about the bureaucracy of her employers, this job is her life. She is sadistic, sociopathic, and her reputation precedes her. Her true love is torture, and she thinks of herself as a ‘pain artist.’ She really doesn’t care for people—except for her partner Hazel.”

The visceral description of the character just highlights how Blige is really going for something completely different after her Oscar-nominated performance in Mudbound. There is still much indignation over the fact that Dee Rees’s powerful, emphatic period drama should’ve been a bigger deal this awards season. At least Blige has been rightfully recognized to some extent, having been nominated fairly consistently over the course of multiple ceremonies although still losing out more times than we’d prefer. The perfect representation of Blige’s power in Mudbound is the fact that she was nominated for a SAG Award even though the entire cast for the film was nominated in a collective category, too; she’s fantastic alone and as part of a greater whole. So, we definitely expected great things from her for her next live-action role, although perhaps nothing quite like this.

Before Mudbound, and after appearing in several shows as herself as musicians are wont to do, Blige featured in guest roles in several television shows such as How to Get Away with Murder (playing, for shame, an unnamed hairstylist in two episodes), Black-ish, and Empire. On film, Blige has been featured in that weird Tom Cruise adaptation of Rock of Ages, the Tyler Perry movie I Can Do Bad All By Myself, and the Christmas flick Black Nativity. THR notes briefly of Blige’s intention to get into action roles, and depicting Cha-Cha certainly fits the bill and then some. Netflix shows, after all, do give actors the opportunity to get into the bulk of characters. Hopefully, even an off-kilter space assassin will have some depth to her. But if not, it’ll be a hell of a fun role regardless.

Blige will next be heard in the animated film Sherlock Gnomes — the sequel to Gnomeo & Juliet — and the real kicker is she’ll be portraying the gnome equivalent of Irene Adler in Holmes lore. Following that up with The Umbrella Academy veers her off in such a different direction, and it’s fascinating to keep track of her career. Whether her choices will come to any kind of fruition in the way she deserves is hard to tell just yet, as Blige’s acting career is only just beginning. The good news is that she is certainly not going to be typecast anytime soon considering the kind of prominent roles she’s getting.

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