blacklisted: mo’nique’s black female martyrdom
March 26, 2019
Definition: a list of persons under suspicion, disfavor, censure, etc.
Used in a sentence: Mo’Nique was blacklisted for fighting for equal pay and fair treatment in Hollywood for Black women. Fuck that.
Mo’nique is one of the original Queens of Comedy. She began telling jokes on a dare at an open mic night, which served as the launching pad for her distinct style of funny with a bawdy gravitas that landed her a standing ovation straight out the comedy gates. She went from telecommunications consultant to working comedian on stages such as Showtime at the Apollo and the Russel Simmons Def Comedy Jam. She turned three guest appearances as Nikki Parker on Moesha into a whole spin-off, The Parkers and both shows are now Black cultural staples. For the love of Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique has an Academy Award. We don’t rate them highly in these parts but the reality is that Oscars are currency, or at least they should be, for Black women in general and Mo’Nique in particular.
Regardless of what you think, or feel about her, what Mo’nique has done in Hollywood as a plus-size woman is revolutionary and she did it by putting her head down and taking what was given to her and leaving her mark on it. She’s played the loud aunt, the jubilant TSA agent, the sidekick and every other peripheral, one-dimensional character you could think of; the kind that is often delegated to fat Black women. She played them all and even as roles of different calibers rolled in, she imprinted each with her trademark electricity, fighting off the “Mammification” of a woman her size. She has been playing the Hollywood game for years, and as much as the details of her clash with Black Hollywood’s biggest producers may be murky at best, we should not abandon the interrogation into a mass campaign to silence Mo’nique from both sides of Hollywood spectrum.
Mo’nique vs. the Black Hollywood elite started around the time she won her Best Supporting Actress playing Mary Lee Johnston in Precious, which was directed and co-produced by Lee Daniels. The visceral vindictiveness and desperation of the character is still talked about to this day. Precious cleaned up at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, winning the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize for best drama, as well as the Special Jury Prize for Mo’Nique. It’s success resulted in Tyler Perry and Oprah jumping on board to provide promotional assistance for the film. With Black Hollywood heavyweights in front and behind the camera, the film was a success and should have been the start of a new era for Mo’Nique, but that didn’t happen because she didn’t “play by the rules.”
This idea came from Lee Daniels, who claimed Mo’nique didn’t “play the game” after her Oscar win, using language to explicitly label her a “hard to work with.” Mo’nique replied, “I thought, once you won the award, that’s the top prize—and so you’re supposed to be treated as if you got the top prize,” she wrote in an essay about the ordeal for The Hollywood Reporter. A fair assumption, except, this is the same Hollywood that had a whole Oscar-winning Octavia Butler still playing nurses and cleaners, after her win. Oscars are supposed to currency to leverage for more but that is rarely the case for Black actresses, until recently. The game Lee Daniels and company wanted Mo’Nique to play was the self-effacing, happy-to-be-here mascot that every Black woman has to play in that industry, for fear of being branded as “difficult.”
In an interview, Daniels said, “She’s brilliant, and I like working with brilliant people. […] She was making unreasonable demands, and she wasn’t thinking — this was when reverse racism was happening, I think. I told her, ‘You have to thank the producers of the film, you have to thank the studios.’ And I think she didn’t understand that, and I said, ‘People aren’t going to respond well if you don’t,’” reported The Root.
The most evident example of what Daniels is referring to was Mo’nique opting out of promoting Precious at the Cannes Film Festival because the producers expected her to do it for free. According to the Oscar-winner, she had negotiated a $50,000 take with her “friend hat” on instead of her “business hat” and she had completed all her contractual obligations. It was Daniels version of the story that was spun into the campaign to blackball her. In her words: “No, I was not blackballed. I was white-balled by some black dicks who had no balls,” the comedian said during a set at the Apollo Theatre. “So, thank you, Mr. Lee Daniels. Thank you, Mr. Tyler Perry. Thank you, Ms. Oprah Winfrey. No, baby, I wasn’t blackballed. […] It would kill me not to say the real shit. You are not paying me equally. You are not treating me fairly. Y’all could suck my dick if I had one.” Naturally, that made things worse.
Here was a Black woman, whose contribution to the film had set it apart from the rest of the contenders, with her role and Sidibe’s heralded as the breakouts of the film. Here was a Black woman who won awards for this role she did for pennies, as a favor for a friend and she is being called “difficult” because she dared wake up to the gravitas of her contribution and demand that she be compensated in kind after already going above and beyond. Daniel’s assertions barely make sense considering Mo’Nique provided emails as evidence that he offered her more roles after Precious. “I was offered the role in The Butler that Oprah Winfrey played,” she said. “I was also approached by Empire to be on Empire. And I was 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.” My guess would be that when Mo’nique came with more demands, Daniels wasn’t too pleased that “friend prices” were suspended, even after she earned awards for his film.
When Mo’nique initiated the Netflix boycott, the narrative that she was “difficult”, once again, made its way to the fore of the conversation, like a bad hangover. Amy Schumer coining $13 million is another horror story altogether but $500,000 was nowhere near what Mo’Nique deserved and that is that on that. She is a Queen of Comedy and one of the best to ever do it. More than that, Netflix used whatever algorithm machines it hides deep underground to conjure up that number, and justified it by claiming that her “relevance had wained” to paraphrase. A phenomenon caused largely in part by Black producers that did not like that she wasn’t down to just take whatever was handed – the curse of the Black woman in Hollywood. Hence, Mo’Nique taking on a giant as the lone Black female figure was easier to mock and deem just another “Angry Black Women” she dared to step to the frontlines of a fight we all claim to be apart of on social media.
Nothing Netflix does surprises me anymore, but the attitudes of the Black Hollywood Elite definitely did. Mo’Nique, Lee Daniels, Tyler Perry and Oprah are all supposed to be a part of the same fight and that would likely entail not recreating the same environment for Black actresses that (white) Hollywood has enforced since its inception. Who do Black actresses have left in their corner when even an Oscar winner has to tow a line she proved she had outgrown. When would she be able to finally ask for what she deserved? She’s played the game and according to the rules, an Oscar is supposed to mean she had won. If that is the reality, then one has to ask what kind of Hollywood will replace the one slowly making its way out the door. Will that vacuum be filled with the same hardships for Black woman? If so, then what exactly is the point and who are we building this “new Hollywood” for?
It is aggravating when the world forces us into the narrow and exhausting caricature of Black womanhood it uses to justify the vast amounts of violence we experience at varying degrees. The Black community of all communities is supposed to understand that behind the pile-on facade of “Angry Black Women” is a frustrated, mistreated and purposefully misunderstood individual. It’s barely surprising that that nuance is missed when it comes to Mo’nique because she is, after all, a plus-size dark-skin Black woman: Invisible and hyper-visible in all the wrong ways.
As things get better for Black Hollywood, Mo’Nique will be forgotten in a bid to forget who had to fall when the public wasn’t in the position to rise and meet their call. The tide still hasn’t changed completely as bigger, Blacker woman still have to fight that much harder to secure half the opportunities of their “lighter and brighter” counterparts. It speaks to a larger conversation on colorism that is being stumbled through online. Colorism is ubiquitous in the Black community as the deepest vestige of colonization that needs to be eradicated. Pair that with the public disdain for fat women and you have an issue where it is bigger than Mo’Nique and few are willing to understand that message. The road to equal pay in Hollywood is long if Mo’nique is the test-case.
None of us are free until Mo’nique and actresses like her are free — a philosophy we only seem to understand in theory instead of practice. Don’t forget Mo’nique, otherwise, we forget the common goal — A Hollywood where the entirety of the Black community can thrive.
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