In 2018, comedian and Academy-award-winning actress Mo’Nique asked the Black community to boycott Netflix for racial and gender bias. The streaming giant offered her $500,000 for a comedy special. But comedians like Amy Schumer, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle were paid millions for their specials.
At the time, Mo’Nique was something like persona non-grata in the entertainment industry. She had spoken out against entertainment forces like Lee Daniels, Tyler Perry and Oprah. And I vividly remember that while people didn’t believe Netflix’s offer was fair, they felt Mo’Nique should accept the “scraps” until she could rebuild her career and her brand.
Personally, I would never advise a Black woman to accept scraps. Still, I didn’t know how this would end for Mo’Nique. Thankfully, the comedian and her husband and manager Sidney Hicks knew that not only were they fighting a good fight but it would ultimately work in their favor.
“My husband said to me from the beginning, ‘Guess what? We’re going to have our comedy special,” Mo’Nique tells ESSENCE in an exclusive interview. “So, I believed him.”
Even though Mo’Nique trusted her husband’s prophecy, she still found herself overcome with emotion at its materialization.
“What was going through my mind was – we’re here,” Mo’Nique says of her tears as she stepped on the stage for Netflix comedy special My Name is Mo’Nique. “We had to fight. We had to speak loudly. We had to stand without wavering, without flinching. We’re here.”
When Mo’Nique says we’re here, she means herself, her husband, and her fans. But I can’t help but feel that it’s also a nod and a wink to the Black women who know what it feels like to be undervalued, overlooked and disregarded in the workplace. According to Lean In’s 2020 report, The State of Black Women in Corporate America, there are a lot of us.
The report found that Black women were more disrespected and had their competence questioned at higher levels than their male and female coworkers. Nearly half of the Black women surveyed felt their race or ethnicity would make it harder for them to get a raise, promotion or even a chance to get ahead. The number was just 3 percent for white women and 11 percent for women overall.
In response to the disrespect and lack of opportunity, an estimated 8 million Black Americans left their jobs in 2021. Mo’Nique’s comedy special shows that there are good things in store for those who advocate for themselves.
It’s the recurring theme of the special. Mo’Nique shared that after watching, we would know exactly why she is the way she is. And she was right. She tells stories of going up against a racist teacher, standing up to bullies in high school and even being honest with herself on more than a few occasions. And at the conclusion of each anecdote, Mo’Nique is better for it.
Still, these awakenings don’t come without a fight. When I ask Mo’Nique, carefully, how she was able to repair her relationship with Netflix, she responds with candor.
“Umm..it’s called a lawsuit. I think that sometimes, you have to say, ‘No, I want to do good business. I don’t want to do business where I’m being exploited. I don’t want to do business where I’m being taken advantage of.’ I want to do good, fair business so that we can establish a relationship so that we can stay in a relationship. We just want to be in business with good folks.”
Don’t we all?
During the back and forth with the streaming juggernaut and the noise from critics and the public, Mo’Nique was able to stay encouraged by being in the moment.
“I didn’t hear it but I heard it,” Mo’Nique says of all the chatter surrounding her name and reputation. “But I had to make sure my chocolate cake recipe was on point. I had to make sure that when I went to the baseball games, they knew I was there. I had to make sure that when my grandbaby girl was going to first grade, I was present. I was present for my life. So that’s how we were able to get through, even at times when our backs were up against the wall, baby.”
During our chat, I credited Mo’Nique for being ahead of her time as far as Black women walking away from places and people that don’t seem to appreciate their worth. But she quickly corrects me.
“I thank you but I can’t take the credit for that, sis. There were so many sisters who came before me. We just weren’t listening,” Mo’Nique says. “There are so many sisters that took that fight before I did. And unfortunately, they left here not having the win, not being heard, not being understood. So I’m grateful that those sisters that came before me, put that thing inside of me that said, ‘Don’t back up and don’t back down.’”
It’s inspiring to see a Black woman take on the good fight and emerge victorious.
My Name Is Mo’Nique is now streaming on Netflix.