Mo’Nique: How to Commit Professional Suicide While Perpetrating as an Activist
I have never been a fan of comedian Mo’Nique. Her shtick as vulgar and unintelligent. However, she is incredibly talented, witnessed by her riveting, multi-award-winning performance as Mary in the 2009 film Precious.
But as many before her–Mel Gibson, Val Kilmer, Charlie Sheen–she has gotten in her own way, and as a result, has been blackballed in Hollywood.
Mo’Nique committed the cardinal sin: biting the hand that feeds. She refused to campaign for Precious, standard operating procedure for a Hollywood cast. It generates buzz and more revenue for the film, and most critically, demonstrates they are team players. It is Hollywood 101, and Mo’Nique failed that course.
Mo’Nique has worked in the entertainment business for about a quarter century. One would think she would know better by now.
Instead, she told Lionsgate, the film’s studio, that because campaign appearances was not in her contract, she would refuse. Essentially she would not work for free.
Then she ranted that Lee Daniels (who apparently confirmed to Mo’Nique that she had been blackballed), Oprah Winfrey, and Tyler Perry were responsible for her precarious situation.
Then she attempted to pimp the role of activist, claiming her solidarity with black women in Hollywood who historically have been underpaid in a white male dominated industry.
Gabrielle Union, Taraj P. Henson, Viola Davis and other black female actors have legitimate grievances. They also understand what the Hollywood game is all about; you have to play to win. You cannot do it from the outside. You produce great work, garner negotiating power, and pave the way for others to accomplish even greater things in the industry.
If Mo’Nique were serious, she would have comported herself accordingly. She would have built a collective; organized on several fronts, and blueprinted a long term strategy. That is how civil rights legislation, marriage equality, and other human rights gains have been won.
But this is not Mo’Nique. She hails from Baltimore, specifically Woodlawn, on the outskirts of the city. As a community activist in Baltimore for the last quarter century, I have never seen or heard Mo’Nique do any substantial organizing, campaigning, or advocating on critical issues that affect the city.
She is an individualist, someone who is out for her own gain, damned the consequences, which became her downfall. If she was astute, she would have aligned herself with Daniels, Winfrey, and Perry. Like them or not, they are Hollywood power brokers, and, as Whoopi Goldberg said she would have done, schooled her on what to do to get paid handsomely and recurrently.
Instead, she burned bridges with the major studios, including Netflix, which would have paid her $500,000 for her own comedy special. How many hard working comedians dream of receiving that offer? Not only did she turn it down, she publicly called for a Netflix boycott.
Mo’Nique wanted the same purse that Dave Chapelle and Chris Rock ($20 million each), and Amy Schumer ($13 million) received. She is not that kind of draw. She cannot sell out arenas. Yet, she cited her resume as justification for such a demand. She was checkmated.
Many point to Sydney Hicks, her husband and manager, as the culprit, who seems to lack the negotiating finesse to put his client in the best possible position, and leave the door open for future negotiations.
The Netflix deal could have been one of many, placing her in the enviable position of being the only black female comedian to accomplish such a feat. Now Netflix, the sixth largest internet service in the nation, is a permanently locked door.
Mo’Nique had a massive opportunity to skyrocket her career after Precious, the film that won her 30 major industry awards including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, and gave her international status. Now, her fate may be returning to the grind at the comedy club circuit where her career began.
Hollywood is a brutal and unforgiving business, and there is a plethora of fresh talent pining to get discovered and make their mark. Given the elapse of time, the egregiousness of Mo’Nique’s sin, and Tinsel town’s crowded stable, a comeback seems impossible.
Mo’Nique may become that tragic figure, one lone spotlight on the stage, bitterly recounting her story to anyone willing to listen, her insides churning over what could have been.