Mo’Nique’s call for a Netflix boycott deserves to be heard

The comedian says she was offered a fraction of what other comics received from Netflix.

Mo'Nique. CREDIT: Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic
Mo'Nique. CREDIT: Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

Academy Award-winning actor and comedian Monique Angela Hicks, who goes by the stage name Mo’Nique, used her Instagram account over the weekend to urge fans to boycott Netflix, accusing the streaming powerhouse of offering to pay her a fraction of what it doled out to other well-known entertainers for their comedy specials.

“I was offered $500,000 last week to do a comedy special,” Mo’Nique said in a video message on Instagram. “However, Amy Schumer was offered $11 million, Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock $20 million.”

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The dramatic pay disparity Mo’Nique railed against is all too common in the entertainment industry and her complaint comes at a time when Hollywood’s ugly injustices toward women are bursting into public view. For Mo’Nique and many other women of color, their challenges are all the greater because they’re easily labeled as “difficult” or “hard to work with” when they they speak out about injustices they encounter. But no matter how abrasive her personality may be, Mo’Nique’s talent is unquestioned and her concerns are valid enough to be heard.

Indeed, industry insiders are aware of the imbalance as more and more female and racial minority actors raise the issue and press for higher compensation for their performances. Variety, an entertainment industry trade publication, reported last summer that movie and television bigwigs are increasingly sensitive to public shaming of gender and racial pay inequities. The publication noted:

Pay in Hollywood is a reliable topic of gossip but has seldom been talked about so openly. That’s changing. The earnings gap that separates female and minority performers from their often better-compensated white male counterparts has recently catalyzed public discussion — and public negotiations. As performers and their agents drag pay inequality into the light, studios and networks face increased pressure to make the issue central to their diversity and inclusion efforts.

Specifically, Variety cited Schumer’s demand for greater compensation for her Netflix comedy special, “The Leather Special,” which aired last March. According to Variety, Schumer’s agents negotiated an $11 million contract, but reopened their negotiations with Netflix after learning from media reports that Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle had cut deals with the company for $20 million for their shows.

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Schumer later noted on her Instagram account that she received about $13 million for her show, but didn’t think she should earn as much as Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle. “I believe women deserve equal pay,” she wrote. “However I don’t believe I deserve equal pay to Chris and Dave. They are legends and 2 of the greatest comics of all time.”

Megan Reynolds at Jezebel wrote in a column posted Monday that Mo’Nique’s representatives raised this issue with Netflix, citing the enormous gap between what the company eventually paid Schumer and what it offered Mo’Nique. The company reportedly told them, “Well, we believe that’s what Mo’Nique will bring,” according to the Jezebel column.

A strange argument, if true, considering Mo’Nique’s track record: before her Oscar-winning performance in Precious, she was selling out venues across the country as a Queen of Comedy, hosting the Apollo Theater, making herself a household name on the original Def Comedy Jam, starring in her own sitcom, and hosting a late night talk show on BET. She never failed to draw a crowd.

Calls to officials at Netflix seeking comment have not been returned.

Despite the apparently real and serious issue of gender and racial pay disparity promoted by the video streaming service, social media reaction to Mo’Nique’s call to action was a mix of support for her cause, derision aimed at her, and an overall unwillingness to part with “Netflix and chill” dates.

Part of the lukewarm response to Mo’Nique likely stems from her well-publicized fights with Hollywood bigwigs, including black names such as director Lee Daniels; actor, producer, and director Tyler Perry; and all-powerful media mogul Oprah Winfrey. During a controversial appearance last year at the Apollo Theater, she called each of them out in a profane rant. “No, I was not blackballed,” she said to a stunned audience. “I was whiteballed by some black dicks who had no balls. Thank you, Mr. Lee Daniels. Thank you, Mr. Tyler Perry. Thank you, Ms.Oprah Winfrey.”

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Another factor worth considering is the urban legend that winning an Oscar is a career killer for black women. Before that brazen critique of her peers, Mo’Nique told the Hollywood Reporter back in 2015 that after her 2010 Oscar win for Precious, she felt that instead of gaining more clout within the industry, she received the direct opposite. Suddenly, the impression seemed to be that she was hard to work with, didn’t play the game, and wasn’t worthy of the kind of prestige she was aiming for. Almost 10 years later, Mo’Nique and her fans are debating whether she deserves more money for a stand-up special.

In the 2015 Hollywood Reporter interview, Mo’Nique cited Hattie McDaniel, who was the first black woman to ever win an Academy Award, winning a Best Supporting Actress in 1940 for her portrayal of Mammy in Gone with the Wind. Mo’Nique noted how McDaniel famously felt like the award was a strike against her. “Hattie said, “After I won that award, it was as if I had done something wrong,'” Mo’Nique said in the interview. “It was the same with me.”

After winning the Academy Award for best actress in 2002 for Monster’s Ball, industry observers have argued that Halle Berry’s career, which had largely consisted of dramatic and serious roles, no longer maintains the same cache.

Black women have long complained that their outspokenness or professional standards get them labeled as difficult, a charge that doesn’t seem to cripple white male entertainers in the same way. For example, rapper Nikki Minaj was labeled as difficult for walking off magazine shoots when the conditions weren’t up to her liking. Legendary singer Eartha Kitt famously made Lady Bird Johnson cry at the White House when she dared to speak up for civil rights and was blacklisted almost immediately.

Meanwhile, the list abounds of male entertainers — especially white male actors — whom industry executives considered difficult or who have made headlines for bad behavior, but remained among the highest-paid performers. Names like Christian Bale, Charlie Sheen, Shia LaBeouf come to mind.

Mo’Nique did get an ‘atta girl shout out from another outspoken black woman comedian, Wanda Sykes. In a supportive tweet, Sykes said that she, too, had been offered an offensively low deal to do a comedy special on Netflix, but she took her talents and show, What Happened…Ms. Sykes?, to another streaming service.

Polarizing professional reputation or not, Mo’Nique’s charge coincides with a host of controversies that continue to rattle Hollywood. With the launch of the Time’s Up initiative — a legal defense fund formed by big names in Hollywood to counter sexual assault in the workplace — debates for equitable pay for women performers, and the overarching push for a cultural shift around women in the workplace, Mo’Nique’s battle cry turns the volume up on compensation transparency further.