In the beginning, I had no plans on writing about Mo’Nique’s call for a Netflix boycott. To be honest, between Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, I’d had my fill on the subject. I finally realized that I was in the minority regarding my thoughts on her predicament, and I was fine with that. I have a lot of unpopular opinions, and that’s never been cause for me to lose sleep at night. But for some reason, I’ve been particularly bothered by the conversations around Mo’Nique’s relevancy, and the implications that she doesn’t deserve to be compensated reasonably. I’ve struggled to find the words to say over the last few days, but I think I finally got it.
Some people have smugly advised me that Mo’Nique’s case is not the hill to die on, and to them, my response is simple: “I said what I said.” While others are busy taking shots at Mo’Nique and debating her “relevancy,” I’ve decided to look at the big picture, and want to discuss some points that I feel are being ignored in the grand scheme of things.
Let’s start from the top- for those of you who have been out of the loop, Mo’Nique was recently offered 500K by Netflix for a comedy special. Now to us poor folks, $500,000 sounds like an incredible amount of money, because, well, for most people, it is. But let’s be clear-Mo’Nique is not most people. Mo’Nique is an OG in the comedy world, with a Grammy nomination for Best Comedy Album, an Emmy nomination for her role in the HBO movie “Bessie,” and an Academy Award that sits on her shelf at home. She had her own television show on UPN for five years, she was a host at the historic Apollo Theater, and had her own talk show on BET. She hosted VH1’s “Charm School,” she had a recurring role on “Ugly Betty,” and has starred in a number of films on the big screen. I can’t forget Russell Simmons’ “Def Comedy Jam,” where countless legends have been born. Most people don’t have that kind of resume. Someone with that kind of resume is certainly worth more than $500,000.
I get it, we can’t compare Mo’Nique to Chris Rock, or Dave Chapelle, but that’s not the point being made here. Where is the RESPECT? When a company offers Wanda Sykes $250,000 and Mo’Nique $500,000, I think it’s fair to say some conversations need to be had. Over the last few years, Netflix has spent more money on things that I consider to be more risky than a Mo’Nique comedy special. Comedians like Jo Koy (whom I’ve never heard of), and Rory Scovel have specials on Netflix; congrats to them. But since their inception in 2012, Netflix has never booked a comedy special with a Black woman as the star. Perhaps some of the money they’ve spent on obscure up and coming white male and female comics, they could have used in Mo’Nique’s deal.
“Shut up and take the money,” is the only piece of advice people have to offer Mo and I find that angle to be lazy and extremely frustrating. This is the kind of thought process that’s held a lot of us back, not only in the entertainment industry, but in all industries. We have to start demanding respect and knowing our worth, whether it be in Hollywood, or at our regular degular schmegular 9-5’s. What people are doing to Mo’Nique right now is what people have done to Black women since the beginning of time, and like Mo’Nique, I’m fed up. Those who have the guts to speak up for themselves are labeled problematic, aggressive, and out of pocket, which is unfair and clearly rooted in racism. This is a part of a larger issue that no one is addressing-Black women are grossly underpaid in Hollywood, despite their qualifications.
For example, the 2016 Forbes list of the world’s 10 highest paid actresses included no Black women and only two women of color (both of whom made the list because of their work internationally). Of Variety’s more comprehensive list, of the 33 actors included in the comedy genre, only 5 women of color made the list and Tracee Ellis Ross was the only Black woman.
When we talk specifically about television, Taraji P. Henson only gets $175,000 an episode for Empire, while Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel made $750,000 per episode from the short Gilmore Girls reboot. Black women in Hollywood seem to be viewed as disposable and replaceable, while white women and men are showered in cash despite their lack of talent, impressive resume, or “relevancy.” Even Black men are affected when it comes to pay inequality. Can anybody explain why Chris Rock only made $40 million to Jerry Seinfeld’s $100 million for a comedy special? So Mo’Nique isn’t crying wolf, she’s simply bringing awareness to a real problem that exists, and people are working hard to gaslight her.
And since Mo’Nique included Chris Rock in this conversation, I thought it appropriate to dig up a quote from an interview he did with ESSENCE.
“Black women get paid less than everybody in Hollywood. Everybody’s talking about Jennifer Lawrence. Talk to Gabrielle Union. If you want to hear stories, talk to Nia Long. Talk to Kerry Washington. They would love to get to Jennifer Lawrence’s place, or just be treated with the same amount of respect.”
Rock, who says he’s never “gone in to a [movie] battle without a Black woman,” says that despite his desire to write and produce roles for women of color, studio executives always try to whitewash his vision.
“I’ve never done a movie, any movie, the silliest movie, where someone, some studio person hasn’t gone, ‘Does the girl have to be Black?’ It happens every time.”
Rock says he had the hardest time convincing execs to go with Tichina Arnold for Everybody Hates Chris.
“With Tichina Arnold in Everybody Hates Chris, I had to fight for Tichina. I’m not even going to tell you who the network wanted,” he said. “She’s literally as good as Tina Fey or Julia Louis-Dreyfus or any of these chicks. They’re like, ‘Tichina who’?’
How many of you would ask “Tichina who?” How many of you would sit there with a straight face and pretend that Tichina is a nobody, the same way people are doing Mo’Nique? Why not stand up for and support Black actresses and comedians who are fighting to get just a piece of the pie? Where does this propensity to diminish our own actresses, projects and ventures come from?
Those hellbent on dismissing Mo’Nique’s argument, continue to reference Shonda Rhimes’ deal with Netflix, which lets me know that the point Mo is trying to make is being completely lost in the sauce. A common mistake people make in these scenarios is believing that because one person from a historically oppressed group has achieved something, that all of us should be able to do so. It’s like making the argument that because we had a Black President once, that we no longer struggle with racism in America. It would do us well to understand that Barack Obama was the exception. Exceptionalism is not the rule. Shonda Rhimes is the exception, which means discrimination in Hollywood is still a very real possibility.
For the record, I thought a call to boycott Netflix was overboard, and I had never planned on taking it that far. But I’m having trouble accepting the fact that people are treating Mo’Nique like she’s a scrub begging for a hand out. What I can’t accept is the selective amnesia I’m seeing all across social media, especially within the Black community. SO MO’NIQUE NEVER MADE YOU LAUGH?
Sure, the entertainment business might be fickle, but I never expected Black folks to turn their backs on a sista who has entertained us for YEARS. You ain’t gotta like Mo’Nique, but right is right. Can’t WE have some compassion and support those who deserve it, especially when it’s clear the industry is screwing them over? What I’ve noticed with many of these arguments is that the goal post continues to move for Mo’Nique. First, people argued that the reason she wasn’t being paid more is because she’s been on a hiatus. When I referenced Dave Chapelle’s hiatus, the argument then turned to her resume. When I began to list the bullet points on her resume, the argument became that she isn’t funny. Last time I checked, Netflix doesn’t cut checks based on how funny you are. People are also contending that Mo’Nique’s attitude got her in this mess. Do you know how many men in Hollywood have an “attitude problem?” They’re still getting paid. Big money. The last argument was that Mo’Nique simply isn’t relevant. And to that, I say-
If you don’t think Black women, (especially older Black women) are going to at least click on a Mo’Nique comedy special, then you’re bugging. Just because white people don’t know who Mo’Nique is, are we really going to play like we forgot?
Whatever happened to the days where the work you’ve done counts for something? If past accolades don’t matter, then what are any of us even working for? What’s the point of having a resume? No, of course, no one will agree that Mo’Nique deserves what Chris Rock would get for a stand up special, but I think anyone with good sense would admit that Mo’Nique at least deserves to make more than $500,000. Just because “that’s the way it is” in Hollywood, it doesn’t mean that’s the way it has to be. That’s what Mo’Nique is saying, that’s what I’m saying. As long as actresses of color continue to stay silent, there will be no changes, and Hollywood will continue to make money from Black art, while the artists get the short end of the stick.