KNOW YOUR WORTH. KNOW WHO YOU ARE. “When you know who you are cain’t nobody tell you nothin’”
Mama taught me that lesson as a boy and I kept it. Self-Awareness and self-esteem are essential tools in the belt we Black folks keep ourselves strapped up with as we work our way through this broken society, repairing what needs fixing and tearing down whats too broken to salvage.
But it backfires sometimes. And when it does, it makes us look foolish. I’m talking about Mo’Nique.
Regardless of how you feel about Mo’Nique, her body of work, or her value as a comedienne, you can probably admit that her video last week asking Black people to join her in boycotting Netflix was a certified disaster. Outside of exposing the humiliation of being offered a deal worth 2.5% that of her peers, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, and $12.5 MM less than white feminism’s pug-nosed poster child. (Let’s play a game-let’s see how many times I can reference her without saying her name!) – Mo’Nique had to suffer the indignity of the memes, mocking response videos, and “chile, please” posts that followed.
Mo’Nique has her supporters – social media was peppered with long postings checking and dragging people who “didn’t have no awards or ever work in the industry trying to tell somebody what to do with their career,” and echoes of “get your paper, sis!” – the mantra of ersatz movement to end free labor from Black women abounded.
In general, their argument that – Mo’nique is waaaaaaay funnier than the Privilegebury Doughgirl (2) and deserves to be paid more – is accurate, but misses the point. And so does Mo’Nique.
Monique never needed to introduce Comedy Voldemort (3) to the equation to reject Netflix’s offer. All that needed to be said was: “at this stage in her career Mo’Nique considers any offer lower than $5 Million an undignified insult.” Period. That is a clear knowledge of your worth. By begging the comparison, she opened the door for Netflix to rationalize and justify the insult.
Hollywood is a machine that projects illusions and fabricates images. It operates on tropes and typecasting. That is to say in Hollywood who you ARE does not so much matter as who you are perceived to be. Netflix says as much when, by Mo’Nique’s own testimony, they claim to “judge by anticipation, not résumé.” Anticipation in that sentence means “heat”and while Mo’Nique wisely does not try to deny the heat of heavy hitters Rock and Chappelle (both of whom have enjoyed buzz around a highly anticipated double-header for over three years now) she underestimates the unfortunately broad appeal of Pasty Shoemaker (4)
Mo’Nique tries to argue that based on “tenure,” and “legacy” and a specious claim of being “the most decorated living comedian” that she should be getting an offer similar to, or better than, Wack and Yellow’s (5). She reasons that because the Average White Bland (6) called Chappelle and Rock “legends” and Netflix in turn called Mo’Nique “a legend too” that by the transitive property of self-delusion: A=B=$. But that isn’t how Hollywood math works.
Netflix doesn’t want to give up the secret sauce, but previous reporting and careful observation of their recommendations gives us a decent picture of their figuring. Netflix is a big data powerhouse that keeps data on everything that is streamed, searched and “liked,’ they are their own Neilsen box. They tag everything that features the same actor, director, producer etc., pretty much standard practice for streaming services. Then they cross-reference the various programs that a performer has been in, the genres of those programs, and what similar actors, performers or programs were liked by users who watched them. They also keep a record of the most searched names and terms and the viewing patters of people who searched those names and terms. That’s how they get “Fan Favorites” and it’s how they can develop things with a relatively high success rate. “Oh you stream the fuck out of Breaking Bad, huh? And you keep searching for Jason Bateman shit? BOOM. ‘Ozarks’, bitch!” That’s how they do.
If you search Mo’Nique on Netflix, 42 relevant items come up. Of those 42, only three actually feature or star Mo’Nique in the cast, of those, 2 are comedy specials. And of those 2, she headlines one – the underwhelming 2006 effort, “I Could Have Been Your Cellmate.” Outside of Netflix, Monique has had 4 notable roles since her Oscar winning turn in 2009 – mostly small parts in ensemble films.
Prior to this recent complaint Mo’Nique’s last big media story was…another complaint. In 2015, she notoriously declared that Lee Daniels had informed her she had been blackballed in Hollywood since her Oscar acceptance speech. Then in 2017, a comedy clip went viral, showing Mo’Nique spreading her ire to not just Daniels, but also Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry. It’s almost certain that Lee Daniels is blackballing Mo’Nique- he clearly has some problems with Black women, and his views on race are messy at best.
But lets recap how this adds up for the sake of the deal: The only media heat Mo’Nique has had in 7 years has been reports of her complaints that nobody been fuckin’ with her for 8 years. If we’re doing the Netflix math; Anti-heat + Rumors of “being difficult” + “I Coulda Been Your Cellmate” = $500K
Mo’Nique is unquestionably one of the funniest and most versatile comediennes of her generation and one of the most chronically overlooked and under-utilized talents in entertainment. She is indeed a legend – but – Mo’s not hot, and her insistence that she is, makes her come across less like the legend she deserves to be and more like Little Richard in the 80’s – who was more famous for shouting “They aint gave me NUTHIN’!! Not Nuthin!” than he was for shouting “Whop-bop-aloo-mop-a-bop-bam boom.” And at this point Mo’Niques claims come across about as believable that Richard ever had “a gal named Daisy,” she needs more people.
Mo’Nique SHOULD be getting paid more, but what makes Mo’Nique’s argument flawed is that she’s beefing with Netflix over a problem that starts at the industry level. And Netflix isn’t willing to pay her reparations for all of Hollywood’s mistakes. They are, it would appear, busy trying to correct it by putting more Black programming on their service, including original programs like “She’s Gotta Have it,” “The Incredible Jessica James” “Dear White People” “Beasts of No Nation,” “MudBound,” “13th,” “Bright” and others.
Her plea for solidarity against Netflix makes Mo’Nique look somehow simultaneously self-absorbed and un-self-aware. Shonda Rimes earned a $100 MM development deal with the service; and Ava DuVerney, Michela Coel, DeWanda Wise, Simmone Missik, and Logan Browning are just a few of the Black women whose careers are experiencing a lift thanks to Netflix Original Programming that they lead. Calling for a boycott that will adversely affect more Black women than it helps makes for a pretty unsympathetic position.
Even her sympthizers aint trying to give up their Black Mirror, Stranger Things, Scandal reruns, and quite possibly everything Katt Williams has ever made, just so Mo’Nique can get some coin. Fact: Netflix is a helluva drug. And without Netflix whats the code for “grown folk bein’ grown” supposed to be? “Amazon Prime & Chill,” is charmless and crude. She didn’t think this through.
The critical thing about knowing your worth is being real with it. Nothing about Mo’Nique’s perfromances seem put on, but her grand claims always feel likes she’s overplaying her hand. Mo’Nique has to know that she’s not had good press for nearly 10 years. She has to know that you can’t rest on your past accomplishments. Just as Aunt Viv should have known that a show called “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” would center on the guy called “The Fresh Prince.” Knowing what you bring to the table works both ways. And Mo’Nique had the opportunity to bring the weight of her decades-long loyal following to bear in a way that that could have benefitted more Black women in comedy.
Had Mo’Nique said, “Let’s show these muhfukkas something, I have three good projects on Netflix, watch them, rate them, and watch them again. And let them know what a $15 Million dollar comic looks like,” the press story around her right now would be very different. Netflix might actually have stayed at the table, and Hollywood might come to see (again) how powerfully our community can get behind our people with the right project done the right way.