Last January, comedian and actor Mo’Nique posted a video on her Instagram urging her fans to join her in boycotting Netflix due to what she alleged was gender and racial bias. In the video, Mo’Nique explained that Netflix offered her $500,000 for her own stand-up special, then cited Amy Schumer’s $11 million deal and Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle’s $20 million deals as examples of what other stand-up comedians were paid for their Netflix comedy specials. Mo’Nique believed she deserved that kind of money; Netflix did not. According to Mo’Nique, Netflix let her know that the $500,000 was based on how many people they believed would tune in to her special. When the Oscar winner brought up her résumé, Netflix told Mo’Nique that they didn’t pay based on résumés. However, when asked why they gave Amy Schumer so much money, Netflix allegedly pointed to Amy’s hit movie Trainwreck and her sold-out Madison Square Garden show as reasons.
Mo’Nique’s Netflix special came nine years after she starred in the award-winning and critically acclaimed movie Precious directed by Lee Daniels and produced by Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, and Lionsgate. Since the film’s release, Mo’Nique has appeared in fewer movies and shows than before she won her Oscar. In 2015, she said her absence from the big and small screens was because she had been “blackballed” by the industry, and more specifically, by people like Perry, Daniels, and Oprah, after her Oscar win.
One year after Mo’Nique’s Netflix boycott, we caught up with the comedian to talk about her claims of being blackballed, what really went down with Netflix, and why she still has love for everyone who she says has done her wrong.
Last year, you called on your fans to boycott Netflix. This came after you claimed in 2015 that you had been blackballed by the industry. Do you have any regrets on how you handled things in 2018?
No. I’ve had absolutely no regrets whatsoever. If I had to do it all over again, I would do it the same way.
Between what happened after Precious and Netflix, which to you was the most hurtful to go through?
Well, I think that both of them carried the weight that they carried. With Precious, I knew these people personally. I knew Lee Daniels personally. I had a conversation with Tyler Perry personally — my husband and I both. My husband and I had a conversation with Oprah Winfrey personally, with Lee Daniels personally. All three of these people said the same thing: “You’re right.” So if y’all know that I’m right, why ever wouldn’t y’all say anything?
Tyler Perry, Oprah, and Lee Daniels are regarded as gatekeepers for a lot of black actors who want work. What was it like to have this happen with people who you have also had personal relationships with?
It’s disappointing. It’s disheartening. Oftentimes we are the ones who walk one another to the ship and we believe we going on vacation — only to go to the bottom of it. So when I think of those three people, that’s the feeling I get. Because you know something is wrong, but you say absolutely nothing. And then when you hear Tyler Perry say, “Mo’Nique, you did nothing wrong, and when my movie comes out I’m going to say it …” And when you also hear [Tyler Perry] say, “I really thought, had you played by the rules, your career would be different” — not by the golden rules, their rules — you have to ask yourself, What does that mean?
Last summer, you released a phone conversation between you and Tyler Perry where he says that he’s going to figure out how much money Precious has made and send it to you, and that it was unfair of the studio to ask you to pay for your own travel to promote the film at Cannes. In clips that were sent to us by you, Tyler can also be heard saying that had you played “the game” things would have been different, but that when he was on the press tour he wouldn’t clear the air because it was “too hot” then. Did any of those things Tyler said he was going to do happen?
Did you hear it?
I did not.
Here’s the thing: He’s never done it. We had given Tyler Perry a year to keep his word. Brother, you said you were going to come out and say something. Well, you never came out and said anything. And what was disheartening was people who were saying, “How could you tape him?” But, they weren’t saying, “Oh my God, did you hear what he said? He said she wasn’t wrong. He said he was going to say she wasn’t wrong.” He said, “Had you played by their rules …” — well, that’s just like somebody saying, “If you don’t go up to that hotel room and get on your knees, you know what’s going to happen.” But no one was ever brave enough to say, “Wait a minute Tyler, is what Mo’Nique saying true?” Now you also hear Tyler Perry offering me money …
Did that ever happen?
No. There was never any. We didn’t accept any money. We just said, “Tyler, clear my name. Give me back my reputation.” No one’s ever heard of me being difficult, being a problem, being nothing, until this movie Precious came. Until Mo’Nique said some words that sound like no. Then it’s, “Oh my God, you’re a problem.”
What happened exactly when you were negotiating with Netflix?
They never negotiated. They weren’t willing to negotiate. They sent over a $500,000 offer. I believe it was that we had to use $200,000 for production. Then it was [that] I couldn’t use the material for two years. Like, it was absolutely ridiculous. So, when my husband and our attorney says, “Well, let’s go back in so we can renegotiate this,” it was “Take it or leave it.” That’s what it is.
We forget the role skin color plays and also the role of being skinny or heavyset. Do you think things would have transpired differently with Netflix had you been a lighter-skinned woman that was smaller?
No, because her name is Wanda Sykes. Wanda Sykes is a light-skin woman who is smaller, and they offered her half of what they offered me.
So, do you believe the struggle is similar for any black female comic trying to do a special with Netflix?
You know how they quoted it and printed out Amy Schumer’s money? [Editor’s note: Schumer’s pay was reported in a Variety piece about how she renegotiated her Netflix deal.] Show Wanda’s and Tiffany [Haddish]’s. You showed hers, so show theirs, too. Then you’ll really get a chance to see it.
After you announced your Netflix boycott, you went on radio shows like The Breakfast Club and Sway in the Morning to explain what had happened. Then when you appeared on The View, Whoopi Goldberg told you, “I’m going to stop you because, contractually, when you make a movie, regardless of who you sign the deal with, your job is to go and promote said movie.” She continued saying, “And we’ve had this conversation, and I said if you had called me I could’ve schooled you on what was expected.”
When I sat there on that platform on The View, I felt sorry. I had empathy for my sister Whoopi Goldberg. Because what you’re saying to me is, “You must work for free. I could’ve schooled you.” The very thing I went to The View to speak about was the very thing I experienced on The View. You give me three minutes to talk about inequality? Well, I was there the whole show. When you have a woman saying, “I could have schooled you,” someone would say, “What was the schooling going to be?” When I look at this woman you say is our icon and our legend — she is. But, how many things has Whoopi Goldberg executive produced? Whoopi Goldberg has always been the help, and I say that humbly. So what is it that you’re going to school me on? I’ve been doing it for almost 30 years.
This is a woman who says “I could have schooled you,” and this is a woman who accepted Ted Danson in blackface, and our community praises this woman. So oftentimes, we do it to ourselves. But, I just can’t. Understand, I love my sister. However, when you know you’re being fed the wrong food, you must say, “I can’t chew this, y’all.”
Was there ever an opportunity to address Whoopi privately? I feel like a lot of these things kept happening publicly.
Whoopi and I did have a conversation after that. I was up in Whoopi Goldberg’s dressing room — and you’re the first person I’m telling this to. I said to Whoopi Goldberg, “Listen, sister.” Because she said, “Mo’Nique, you gotta let that go. You gotta move on. People just wanna see what’s going to happen to you next.” I said, “Whoopi, I can’t let it go. I gotta think about the little sister who’s not here yet.” And our icon and our legend said, “You better stop worrying about the little sister who’s not here yet and worry about you.” In that moment I knew I was looking at a woman who didn’t give a damn about me. And if she’s telling me, “Stop worrying about that little girl who not here yet,” well, she forgot about the ones that came before her who were worried about her.
Tiffany Haddish was breaking out as this big star at the time, and I believe you and a lot of black female comics paved the way for her to do what she’s doing right now. Then she did an interview with GQ, and when she was asked about your Netflix boycott, she said, “I’m looking at how [Netflix has] opened up so many opportunities for black females and comedy. When my people are dying, that’s when you gonna catch me protesting. I’m not gonna protest because somebody got offered not the amount of money they wanted to get offered.” Did you feel hurt by that?
I understood it. And what I won’t do is throw my sister under the bus. And when my sister did have a bad moment, I said, “Y’all, I’m not gonna throw her away.” What she wrote on her Instagram page and on mine was, “I love you, Mo’Nique.” I understand the business. This business is set up for us to go against one another. I’m not going to go against Tiffany Haddish. They set us up to do this to one another. But what I won’t do is, I won’t feed into it.
Around the time you called for the Netflix boycott, pay inequality in Hollywood was becoming a part of the conversation, especially regarding women of color. Were you surprised that you didn’t get more support from powerful white women in the industry, in the way, say, Jessica Chastain fought for Octavia Spencer to get equal pay?
No. I’m not the first one. I’m just vocal with it. My mouth is big. But I’m not the first one. Some people have the attitude. These are people who look like me. Some of them have the attitude [of], “Not only are you a woman, but you black. Not only are you a black woman, but you fat. You should just be glad you got invited to the table. Sit down and shut up.”
It feels like black women aren’t allowed to make mistakes. We saw it with Tiffany Haddish and her New Year’s Eve set that left many disappointed. Even then, a lot of black male comics use black women as props in their movies and shows. They play them in a way that’s a bit distasteful.
Tell me about all the money they talk about Moms Mabley making. Tell me about all the money they spoke about Marsha Warfield, Thea Vidale making. These are stand-up comedians. Tell me about the black female comedian who, when it was all said and done, they were well taken care of. Can you? See, Rosie O’Donnell never has to work again if she don’t want to. Roseanne Barr, Ellen DeGeneres, Tina Fey, Melissa McCarthy, the list goes on. Tell me about the black ones. Tell me about the black ones.
When actors win Oscars, usually we see them working more and getting more roles. With you, it was almost the exact opposite. It dissipated.
Again, baby, when you know the history … When Hattie McDaniel first won, the private talks was, “We hope this nigga don’t think now we gon’ pay her equal. Matter of fact, we gon’ pay her less so she know she ain’t that special.” So when I won that Oscar, they still wanted to treat me as if I took it off the Greyhound bus. I was unwilling to do that. So it wasn’t like the calls didn’t come — they did come. But they were coming like I just got to Hollywood. They were calling as if they were doing me a favor.
There was never a question in your mind of, “Let’s play the game and do the small stuff, and hopefully it leads to the big moments later on”?
No, baby. Because once again, that’s the same thing Hattie McDaniel did. So, now we gon’ speed up 50 years later, and we still gon’ say, “We hope they like us enough that they’ll give us a li’l something”? No. That’s unacceptable. As long as we keep having those niggas that will, we keep being paid unfairly.
You’re on tour with this residency in Vegas. What’s your game plan for the rest of the year?
Do you know what Imma enjoy right now, Malcolm? This residency. I’m going to enjoy that, baby, and my babies’ baseball season coming up. That’s what Imma enjoy. What’s going to come tomorrow will come tomorrow. If I get focused on the business of tomorrow, I lose focus on my family of today.
When I walk in my closet, there’s a picture of me and my grandmother. My grandmother’s gone to the next journey, but when my children see that picture, they be like, “Aw, man, remember when Mama Mimi …?” “Remember when Mama Mimi …?” The legacy that woman left is her grandbabies and her great-grandbabies. Y’all are gonna think of me whatever you’re going to think of me. For the ones who have beautiful thoughts, I thank you. But for my children who run in my family and have my blood running through their veins that I’ll never get a chance to lay my eyes on, if they speak on me with pride and they granddaddy with pride, then we’ve done our job.
How do you still operate from a place of love?
When I was 7 years old, my grandmother was supposed to come pick me up, and she didn’t show up. I cried so hard because I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t come get me. And my father came up in that room drunk, and he said, “Let me tell you something. Don’t nobody owe you shit.” I never forgot that. They don’t owe me a phone call. They don’t owe me anything, and I still love them. I don’t know their dynamics or what they’re walking through. My husband had to say, “Mama, this shit ain’t never personal.” That’s how I can still love them. It ain’t personal. Don’t you walk around with that shit in your heart.