Mighty Actress

Jennifer Hudson Shines in 'Call Me Crazy'

Despite her talent, the actress and singer isn't getting her due.

Michael Desmond/Lifetime

In the new television movie Call Me Crazy, airing Saturday night on Lifetime television, Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson gives a beautifully nuanced performance as a woman suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shortly after returning from the war.

The fresh-faced Hudson shines as Maggie, a female veteran struggling to find a way out of the emotional turmoil she’s facing after being attacked by a fellow officer while serving her country. As she tries to reconnect with her son and father after returning back to American soil, she must also battle to regain her mental stability as well.

Call Me Crazy: A Five Film is an extension of the “Five” franchise started in 2011 by Lifetime Television, and is executive produced by Jennifer Aniston. The segment “Maggie’’ was directed by actress Ashley Judd. Other segments include performances by Melissa Leo, Octavia Spencer, Brittany Snow and Jean Smart.

Hudson’s turn as a woman facing serious mental health issues serves a powerful reminder of the vastness of her talents. Hudson first earned our attention with her powerful vocals on American Idol. She didn’t win the competition but her girl-next-door looks and powerhouse voice moved her to the front of the line when meeting the producers of the film Dream Girls, starring Beyoncé and Eddie Murphy.

Hudson scored the role of Effie in the 2006 film, and even with that massive star power alongside her managed to walk away with an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

But like many actresses that have come before and after her, Hudson has had to wear many other hats in order to attain and maintain her stardom since her break-out performance. Though her talents are well documented and though she remains wildly popular with most audiences (she earned a standing ovation at the Oscars this year for her performance of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”) the role Hudson may be best known for is her heavily rotated Weight Watchers commercials.

“She’s a very likeable, talented presence on the screen,” said one well-known Hollywood producer. “I’m not sure what that translates into in terms of Hollywood success. It used to mean something in this business. I don’t know what it means for anyone these days.”

In recent years, Hudson has had only a few movie vehicles in which to shine. In the film version of Sex and The City, she appeared as Carrie Bradshaw’s (Sarah Jessica Parker) assistant, and in 2008 she made her third film appearance in The Secret Life of Bees as Rosaleen, the mother figure of Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning). That film also starred Queen Latifah and Alicia Keys, and while both movies did well at the box office neither led to expanded movie opportunities for Hudson.

Musically, Hudson recorded two quality albums that both achieved gold status (500,000 or more in sales) but never quite caused the major stir on the Billboard charts that a name of her magnitude would suggest.

An Oscar win rarely assures an actresses of any race regular work in film or television, but black actresses have a particularly hard road to travel. Halle Berry just scored her first box office hit in years with The Call, but others, such as Monique, who won an Oscar for the 2009 film Precious, have yet to benefit at all it seems. IMDb.com, a resource site that tracks celebrity television and film work, indicates that Monique has no new projects slated for release in the upcoming year.

“It’s the same story that faces most African-American actresses in this business,’’ said one black director. “There isn’t a system in place to support their fame without a regular film in theaters or magazine covers on the stands. Jennifer is really one of the first woman of color to be fortunate enough to have something big like those Weight Watchers ads out there that constantly keep her in the public’s eye.’’

Mainstream actresses such as Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Hudson usually have the added benefit of securing major endorsement deals with large makeup, beverage, and food companies that keep their faces and stories on the public’s (and film studios') radars constantly. They also regularly land major magazine covers that cement their stardom whether they’re featured in films or not. Halle Berry has a long-term, lucrative endorsement deal with Revlon, but as a rule women of color in Hollywood have long been denied such useful tools in sustaining their careers.

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Hudson has lost more than 80 pounds on Weight Watchers and continues to be the company’s most popular saleswoman of all time, overshadowing even the likes of Jessica Simpson. The company publishes its own magazine, which features Hudson’s face on the cover regularly.

“I look at Jennifer Hudson and I believe she uses Weight Watchers,” says 23-year-old Frances Lindsay of Long Beach, California. “I usually don’t believe the people on those ads like Mariah Carey. She looks like she had surgery to get her weight off. But I believe Jennifer uses Weight Watchers. She just seems so real.”

Fans also connected with the Dream Girls star after the tragic loss of her mother, brother and nephew to gunshot wounds at the hands of her former brother-in-law in 2008.

Hudson has roles in two films slated for release later this year: Lullaby with Amy Adams and Black Nativity with Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker. With any luck the multitalented Hudson's Hollywood résumé will be allowed to expand beyond commercials that talk about her weight.