At the height of her career with her starring roles in both The Parkers and Queens of Comedy, I was a big fan. Mo’Nique was a representation of me: big, Black, loud, and deeply hued. She made a comedic reputation on mocking skinny bitches – before subsequently becoming one. Her outbursts over the last few years have rubbed many wrong, myself included. She has disparaged the same people who gave her a chance to transition from Black Comedienne to respected Black actress.
Yet, while Mo’Nique is certainly not the hill to die upon in the fight against gender and race pay disparity, there’s much to be said about our community response to her plight.
To be Clear: I’m Not Boycotting Netflix, Sis.
For one thing, I enjoy quite a few shows, movies, and other content that the platform provides. More importantly, however, calls for boycotts in the social media age are often poorly thought out. We’ve romanticized the efficacy of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts without consideration of the time (over a year), effort (coordinated car services), and minimized financial impact (ensuring transportation to and from employment + financially sustaining the cost of the MBB).
Bankability Often Changes Its Definition at Netflix
Still, the pay disparity practices of Netflix are worth questioning the company’s ethics and practices. It is no secret that Amy Schumer was offered $11M before negotiating to $13M after learning of Netflix’s offers to male comics. Irrespective of personal feelings on her comedic ability, Schumer has sold out arenas in recent years prior to her deal talks with Netflix. However said Netflix special, The Leather Special, is largely critically panned. Additionally, her 2017 theatrical release, Snatched, made $60M worldwide with a $42M production budget at profit of $18M, bringing into question Schumer’s supposed bankability that warrants her multi-million dollar payday.
Comparatively, Netflix’s Will Smith big-budget blockbuster Bright was financed to the tune of $90M dollars. Despite being universally panned – one critic called it the absolute worst movie of the year and an affront to cinema – and a lukewarm audience reception, Netflix has greenlit a sequel for the movie. So much for bankability.
Mo’Nique Doesn’t Need to be Likable to Be Correct
Mo’Nique’s declaration of herself as the most decorated comedienne alive is of course inaccurate, but it’s not entirely exaggerated. While she has not reached EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) status as Whoopi Goldberg has, Mo’Nique has a robust resume that has proven her audience’s commitment to supporting her craft. Still, there’s a strong contention that Mo’Nique should be more likable, docile, and nice to others to command the money that her resume and accolades more than support.
Wanda Sykes affirmed Mo’Nique’s decision to be vocal, revealing that she too was given an incredibly low offer from Netflix. Unlike Mo, Sykes is regularly seen on primetime TV via ABC’s Black-ish (note: leading actress Tracee Ellis Ross reveals that she too is being paid less than her male co-star, Anthony Anderson) and has remained relatively uncontroversial in the media. She’s had a lengthy career in comedy and acting, including prior HBO standup specials. White people also really like Wanda Sykes so the argument of Mo’Nique’s lack of crossover appeal falls flat. Yet, Netflix offered her less than $250,000 for a comedy special.
Not only is being nice NOT a requirement for merit-based performance, it’s also not a guarantee of fair compensation as we see with both Wanda Sykes and Tracee Ellis Ross. Mo’Nique often misspeaks and is wholly impolite, but her argument and call out of pay disparity is rightful and just. Does Mo’Nique’s past or current work demand a $13M payout? Absolutely, unequivocally no. Yet, $1M-$3.5M would have been a far more respectable offer to an Academy Award winner and comedy vet.
Pay Disparity Is Not Just a Hollywood Problem.
However, Mo’Nique’s plight is not unique. It is well known that women, especially those of color, are consistently underpaid in every industry, regardless of resume and talent. We don’t have to look to Hollywood to see this because most of us have experienced this in our own careers. The idea that one must be agreeable to be compensated does nothing to aid in fighting gender pay disparity.
As a Black woman, I’ve regularly been offered and paid less in my corporate career than my male and non-PoC colleagues. Once, in college, I worked at a Chiropractor’s office where three of us were employed as front desk receptionists. Two of us, both Black women, were paid less hourly than our white colleague who had less experience and education than both of us. Even after acquiring a professional degree, I’ve been offered jobs with salaries that are 20K less than others in the same role who had less experience and/or education than I did.
I’ve watched minorities express discontent with their roles and be met with performance plans (a corporate disciplinary action prior to termination) when their white colleagues were offered retention promotions. My palatability and agreeable nature has never, ever been on a single performance evaluation in the last five years since I’ve worked full-time – and it’s never gotten me a single dollar. I must constantly speak up for myself and leave when my cries went unheard, starting the fight anew each time.
What Mo’Nique is Doing Matters for Everyday Women
Knowing that gender and race pay disparity continue to adversely impact us, we should be the first to defend the veracity of Mo’Nique’s core point: she was lowballed and it is unfair to ask Black women (and Black men too in many cases) to perform as hard as someone being paid 26x more than us.
When we say that Mo’Nique should be grateful for being offered proverbial scraps because she’s not relevant, we should bring ourselves to mind. We should remember that feeling of shame and anger when we learned that our coworker was hired making 10K more than the salary for which we had to beg and prove ourselves. Or when we’re told that we need to watch our “e-mail tone” and when we swallow rightful and righteous anger in the workplace for fear of being labeled an Angry Black Woman.
We should remember how it feels when we are solopreneurs trying to sell our services, coaching, or events to people who think we’re not “worth” $50, $500, or $5,000 despite our extensive resumes and proof of concept. We should remember how it feels to be offered appearance and speakers fees that pale in comparison to less-accomplished male and/or non-PoC colleagues. We should remember this when we are offered less as brand influencers despite having a larger audience reach and engagement.
As for her less-than-stellar personality, YES, she’s a flawed spokesperson for an incredibly salient issue. Yet, we have countless examples of supporting the work and causes of more incredibly flawed others. It would benefit each of us to put personality aside and work to see the merit of her fight.