Photo: Mo’Nique/Susan DeLoach/Showtime
In a 2008 interview on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Mo’Nique Hicks reveals her costar on The Parkers Martin Lawrence gave her advice that would go on to shape her acting career: “He pulled me to the side, and he said, ‘Listen, don’t ever let them tell you what you can’t have.’ Since that day, I’ve made some of the best deals I’ve ever made in my career because it keeps ringing in my head. It will stay with me forever.” Martin Lawrence encouraged Mo’Nique not to settle for less than her genius was worth. He saw her pure raw talent, not that it was hard to see then, and especially now.
Mo’Nique’s career is bejeweled with iconic Black cultural cornerstones. She has performed her stand-up comedy in theatres like Russell Simmons Def Comedy Jam and even Showtime at the Apollo. Her stand up often includes sensational elements of body positivity colored in her charismatic delivery: “a big woman can do sh*t a skinny woman can’t f*ck with” she says in one of her most-watched standup routines on Youtube with over 1 million views. Not to mention her show MoNiques Fat Chance, a beauty pageant for plus-sized women which ran from 2005- 2007. Her portrayal of Nikki Parker on hit TV show Moesha was remarkably successful. It birthed The Parkers, a television show that shaped an entire generation.
Her iconic performance of Mary Lee Johnson in the critically acclaimed Precious viciously exposed the cyclical nature of abuse and relentless poverty in Black America. Her performance yielded 42 different awards (and 14 other nominations). These included a Golden Globe award, a first-ever unanimous vote in the African American Film Critics Association for an acting category, and an Academy Award in the Supporting Actress category, making her only the fourth Black actress to win an award in that category. Also under her belt is an Emmy Nomination from 2015, and a Grammy Nomination from 2001. Monique’s career should be booming about now in every way, right? Not exactly.
According to IMDB, between 2000-2009, she received acting credits in 16 films and 10 TV shows. Yet, between 2010-2019 she’s only credited for acting four roles on film and zero for TV. Monique tells Hollywood Reporter, “I was offered the role in The Butler that Oprah Winfrey played. I was also approached by Empire to be on Empire. And I was also offered the role as Richard Pryor’s grandmother in [Daniels’ upcoming Pryor biopic]. Each of those things that he offered me was taken off the table…they all just went away.” So why did Mo’Nique’s job opportunities plummet in a downward spiral?
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A Close up On Mo’Niques Blacklisting
Mo’Nique’s blacklisting drama in 2009 took a hit on her career. And with her ongoing discrimination lawsuit with Netflix, where she turned down a Netflix deal for pay inequity, it would appear Mo’Nique’s career is destined for the Hollywood graveyard. But that’s not that case. Mo’Nique is making steady headway on her lawsuit because America is a far different place for Black people than it was in 2009. If there’s one thing you can say about Mo’Nique, it’s that she never settles for less, if only people understood how important it is for Black women to stand their ground. Every time Mo’Nique fights for her worth, it evidences America’s negligence toward Black female empowerment.
The first most notable time Mo’Nique stood up for herself to defend her career and her worth was in 2009 during the festival touring of Precious. In an interview with Steve TV Show, after being asked to promote the film without pay, the actress resisted as this was not one of her contractual obligations. “[I] got labeled as ‘difficult’ because I said one word — and that was ‘no,'” she says in the interview.
And on ABC News, Mo’Nique says: “It is show business. A game does have to be played…but why can’t we play the fair game? If you’re asking, ‘Am I willing to put my integrity on the line for Hollywood?’ No.” Then, in regards to her Oscar acceptance speech, Mo’Nique tells The Hollywood Reporter that Precious director Lee Daniels said: “she didn’t thank the producers and she didn’t thank the studio. And that’s just not things that you do”.
In an episode of Mo’Nique and Sydney’s Open Relationship (her online talk show with her husband), Mo’Nique explains the events leading to her getting on Oprah’s bad side. Oprah was going to interview Mo’Niques abuser, her own brother. In an Essence interview, Mo’Nique reveals she was abused from ages 7-11 by her older brother. Before greenlighting his appearance on her show, Oprah called Mo’Nique asking for her permission. Mo’Nique was hesitant but agreed to Oprah interviewing her brother as she wanted to see her brother’s growth. But Oprah failed to disclose that Mo’Nique’s mother would be joining her brother too. Mo’Nique felt betrayed that Oprah did not disclose her mother’s appearance on the show – as Mo’Nique would have asked Oprah to cancel the episode if she had known.
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Understandably, Mo’Niquehad agreed to her brother’s one-on-one interview but not her family “ganging up” on a show watched by millions. On April 19th 2010, Mo’Nique’s abuser Gerald Imes and their mother appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. After Mo’Nique confronted Oprah about the incident at Lupita Nyong’o’s 2013 Oscar party, tensions rose even higher between the actors. Finally, in a May 2017 stand-up routine, Mo’Nique says, “Thank you, Mr. Lee Daniels, thank you, Mr. Tyler Perry (another Precious producer critical of her actions); thank you, Ms. Oprah Winfrey. No baby I wasn’t blackballed, I was fucked up by some niggas who had no balls…it would kill me not to say the real shit… you are not paying me equally, you are not treating me fairly, so yall could suck my dick if I had one”.
Does Mo’Nique Deserve Hollywood’s Cold Shoulder?
Mo’Nique just said what every person underpaid, overqualified, and overworked has ever wanted to shout to their employer. BIPOC, especially women, who receive 62 cents less on that dollar than white men, are fed up with inequality; Mo’Nique stood her ground. But Hollywood heavyweights didn’t savor her tone, yes her tone, the same one that they initially fell in love with, the crass, sassy in your face comedy style that got her career started. Now that she’s holding influential people accountable, Hollywood is less receptive to her tone.
In a 2019 interview with The Steve Harvey Show, Harvey responded to Mo’Nique’s intense comment two years prior: “When you made that statement, the narrative got flipped,” Harvey stated. “We can’t cure darkness with more darkness.” That year prior, Lee Daniels also responded to Moniques fiery comments in a TMZ interview: …it ain’t even worth the conversation. Like, she needs to shut up.”
It appears that Mo’Nique’s tone is the cause of a lot of abrasion with Hollywood. She’s facing intense backlash for fighting for her worth, and by no means is her crucifixion justified.
What Does it All Mean in 2020?
So how does this all play into now? How has almost a decade of relentless branding an actress as “difficult” contextualized from 2009 to 2020? One way is our push for more just financial compensation, and paying people their worth; everything from the recent Amazon strikes, to social media pressure keeping Kylie Jenner accountable for not paying Bangladeshi workers, to the push for increased minimum wage across the country, 2020 America would have been much more supportive, and much more aggressive on social media to push for Mo’Nique getting treated and paid her worth, had the crest of her problems started today. But the single-core difference between what Blackness means in 2009 versus 2020 is far more straightforward. Our shift to intentional and active pro-Blackness in the wake of the BLM movement makes 2020 radically different than eleven years ago.
It is no secret that Hollywood gives select passes to white actors for being “difficult”. For instance, on the Fury set, Shia Labeouf got into a fistfight with Brad Pitt, (the Tyler Perry of white producers). Yet, his outbursts only add to his maverick, stone-cold, and edgy brand; Shia is starring as a big-time druglord’s right-hand man in his upcoming film The Tax Collector. The same goes for Gwyneth Paltrow, who was widely known as the most hated celebrity in Hollywood as ranked by The Cut in 2013 and yet has suffered no loss to her gorgeous career or her relentlessly ambitious Goop brand. Time after time, white celebs face the sensationalized judgment of cancel culture, and receive unrelenting forgiveness.
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But Hollywood does not see Black people, especially Black women, as deserving of such compassion. A prime example of this recently came to light when a video of Viola Davis resurged in late June. In the powerful excerpt from her interview with Women of the World, she states, “We won’t talk about gender inequality of pay. A lot of the women that have stepped forward– and I stand in solidarity with them, ok? What they’re getting paid, which is half of what a man is getting paid, well we get probably 1/10 of what a Caucasian woman gets.”
She goes on to say even with her Juilliard training and illustrious career, she still isn’t adequate by Hollywood’s standards: “I have to hustle for my worth… I got the Oscar, I got the Emmy, I’ve got the two Tonys, I’ve done Broadway, I’ve done off-Broadway, I’ve done TV, I’ve done film I’ve done all of it… and yet I’m nowhere near them, not in terms of money, not as far as job opportunities, nowhere close to it”. This is the problem Black actors are damned to face in Hollywood, or rather, Black people operating in white America in general; none of this was built with us in mind.
There are endless comments under Viola’s video from 2018 mentioning the similarities between Viola’s grievances, and Mo’Nique’s. The only difference between the two is that Viola is playing the Hollywood game, Mo’Nique is refusing, and it’s the reason her career is on the line, and Viola is in the clear. It is no secret that Black women don’t receive their flowers or their due respect. But still, Mo’Nique won’t settle for less, and Netflix is no exception.
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Defending Black Women
In 2018, Mo’Nique filed a lawsuit against Netflix, where she’s suing the streaming juggernaut for discrimination. The lawsuit states “Despite Mo’Nique’s extensive résumé and documented history of comedic success, when Netflix presented her with an offer of employment for an exclusive stand-up comedy special, Netflix made a lowball offer that was only a fraction of what Netflix paid other (non-Black female) comedians.” Even comedic trailblazer Wanda Sykes was critically low balled by a Netflix offer “less than half [of Mo’Niques] 500k,” she says on Twitter.
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But, on July 17th, 2020, something remarkable happened. “The decision in the Central District Court in California [states] Mo’nique Hicks’ lawsuit can go forward, and Netflix’s attempt to get it dismissed was denied.” It’s a massive victory for Mo’Nique, the first step towards a message that will contribute to the toppling of oppressive structures like pay inequity. People have gone back to that same Instagram video since hearing her exciting news, and her support has shifted in favor of Mo’Nique’s fight. Comments of support, love, and positivity have slowly drowned out the cacophonous sea of relentless, brutal hatred. I can’t help but attribute a lot of this positivity to the Black Lives Matter movement, which has illuminated the police brutality crisis in Black neighborhoods and introduced many Americans to the daily struggle that can be Blackness. We’re entering a new age.
The sentiments of Hollywood juggernauts that tried to ruin Mo’Nique’s career for merely not playing the game, for protecting herself, have aged despicably. America is in an era of change, a period of exposure, and healing. Ideologies that are more critical of Black women than an understanding of their often egregious circumstances, will disintegrate in the raging new fire of feminism and Black liberation. Has Hollywood learned nothing from Precious? In the future we are building, we will defend and uplift Black women.
Monique’s story is not over, but what we’ve seen so far has been a graceful tale of strength. One for actors, women, Black people, and discriminated individuals everywhere, teaching us to never settle for less than we’re worth, even if it costs us everything.
By Tyler Bey
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