Over the weekend, news broke that actress and comedian Mo’Nique is calling for a boycott of streaming giant Netflix over pay disparities. In a video uploaded to her personal Instagram account, Mo’Nique named gender and colour bias as the reason she was only offered a fraction of what Amy Schumer and male comedians like Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock were offered for their own comedy specials with the platform. She thinks that Black women are getting the short end of the pay stick. Since then, comedian Wanda Sykes co-signed Mo’Nique’s claim by sharing via tweet that Netflix offered her less than half of the $500,000 they were willing to give Mo’Nique, suggesting a trend in how they treat Black female comedians specifically. Across the board, Black women are hit harder by the pay gap, and Hollywood is no different. But in the case of Mo’Nique specifically — who is also plus-sized and has already experienced “blackballing” — I don’t think that her race and gender are the only things influencing how marketable she is to networks and streaming platforms. And it raises the question: is a boycott the correct response?
Mo’Nique, real name Monique Angela Hicks, won an Academy Award for playing an abusive mom in Lee Daniel’s 2009 movie Precious alongside Gabourey Sidibe. It marked a career high for the entertainer and a successful crossover into film after gaining notoriety as a standup comedian and the star of the Black sitcom, The Parkers. But things took an interesting turn for Mo’Nique after her big win and saw her fall into relative obscurity.
During a 2015 interview on Good Morning America, she claimed that she was blackballed by the industry after refusing to play thank him and the studio during her Oscars acceptance speech. She says that the Hollywood powers that be — she has since gone on to name moguls Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey as co-conspirators in icing her out of the industry — decided that she needed to be “taught a lesson” for not “playing the game” of show business. A 2009 LA Times piece written ahead of Mo’Nique’s big Oscar win questioned whether or not she was ruining her chances at the big fish because of her reluctance to campaign for the film and her asks to be compensated for the work involved in promoting it. Essentially, Mo’Nique’s status in the industry and among the list of winners at the 2010 Oscars were at risk, not because of her performance or because she failed to meet contractual obligations, but because her colleagues didn’t think that she had been gracious enough.
Decorum is often unfairly leveraged against women. While men get to make an ass of themselves on Monday and show up to work on Tuesday with their reputations intact, women are always held to higher moral standards. This is even truer when you are a member of an underrepresented group — in this case fat, Black women. Leading roles are hard for women to get, even harder for women of colour, and damn near impossible for women of colour who are also plus-size and fall outside the narrow standard of desirability and attractiveness. This makes it much easier for producers, directors, networks, and streaming giants to underpay them.
Working in tandem with industry hierarchy is the fact that Black women who are plus-sized are also stereotyped as either too aggressive or inherently nurturing to everyone around them. Nikki Parker, the character Mo’Nique played on The Parker’s, spent all five seasons ardently pursuing a romantic relationship with a professor who adamantly rebuffed her advances. Women who look like Mo’Nique who don’t roll over and accept the scraps that are offered to them run the risk of being labeled as troublemakers. They are met with skepticism, not empathy, when they ask for more money or other deserved accommodations. When a wave of actresses like Emmy Rossum, Jennifer Lawrence, and Ellen Pompeo publicly aired their financial grievances against networks and studios who paid their male colleagues more money than them, we cheered them on and supported their causes. We celebrated their victories when they got what they deserved. This has not been the case for Mo’Nique.
And this brings me to one final point. According to the Instagram video she posted, Netflix told Mo’Nique that they offered her such a small amount of money because that’s what they thought she would bring in, despite having an Oscar and being named one of the original queens of comedy. There is no denying that Mo’Nique is absolutely hilarious. She is the star of two comedy specials currently available to stream on Netflix — Monique: I Coulda Been Your Cellmate and Shaquille O’Neal Presents: All Star Comedy Jam: Live From Dallas. She's also a lead in Blackbird, a film about a Black teen struggling with his sexuality. I think that instead of boycotting Netflix, we should be proving them wrong by watching these titles. We should be supporting good performances and talent regardless of their race, gender, or size. It's time Netflix gets the hint.