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Musings

I Feel For Mo’Nique, But She’s Fighting An Unwinnable Battle

“Are you boycotting Netflix?”

“What?”

“Netflix. Mo’Nique said we should all boycott Netflix.”

It was now 5am CAT and I could only stare at my phone and wonder what had happened 8 hours prior EST to illicit this text from my sister. I know her well enough to know that her query was dripping with sarcasm, so I readied myself for some foolishness. Instead, I was stricken with sympathy.

Mo’nique, it would appear, had gone public with news of Netflix’s paltry offer of $500,000 for a stand-up comedy special, an amount that pales in comparison to the deals that the likes of Chris Rock and the (unfunny) Amy Schumer have received from the streaming service. She was calling for a boycott on the basis of gender and race bias. I finished catching up on the goings-on of this now unidirectional tete-a-tete between Mo and the ubiquitous Juggernaut that is Netflix and sent my sister a one-word reply.

“No.”

I feel for Mo’Nique. I honestly do. But calling for a boycott of a service that millions of people have now come to rely upon for affordable, quality (depending on region) entertainment is akin to imploring us all to shoot ourselves in the foot and then join you in a pilgrimage around Moses’ mountain. This is just not a sword we are ready to fall upon for this particular issue, for myriad reasons.

As any number of people has pointed out, Mo’nique calling for a boycott of a service in hopes of strong-arming them into increasing her pay is untenable. To a large extent, Netflix relies on reoccurring subscription/payments in order to shell out those multi-million deals to comedians like Rock. If we cut our subscriptions en masse, how are you gonna get paid, Mo? Secondly, how does this tactic best serve the next comedienne of color who gets lowballed for her work? The potential hit in revenue would narrow the space for other artists of color looking to take advantage of this platform. I mention artists of color specifically, because platforms like Netflix will always find space for marginally funny white men. Always.

The other problem – it pains me to admit – is likeability. Many people just do not like Mo’Nique. As Lydia Forson, herself a firmly established and award winning actress has pointed out in her writing on several occasions, support of a person who has been the victim of injustice often hinges on two things: relateability and likeability. If people can empathize with your plight, i.e. see how they themselves could fall victim to the same set of circumstances, they are more likely to support your extrication from those unfavorable circumstances. And if they like you (or at least like what they think they know about you), they are even more liable to rally to your cause.

Most of us will never dream of making half a million dollars in one hit, so we can’t empathize. And unfortunately, whether by her own doing or by rumors being industriously spread about her, Mo’Nique has earned a reputation that has rendered her unlikable.

I am neither a Mo’Nique fan nor foe. I liked her on The Parkers, where she co-starred with Countess Vaughn and I’ve seen her on Precious. I wouldn’t run to the theater and plunk down my hard earned money to see That New Mo’Nique film, but if came out on Netflix, I might consider leaving it a star review. In other words, I have no strong feelings about Mo’Nique as an artist, but I do harbor strong enough feelings about what she’s going through to gather some empathy.

If there is one thing that is not lacking in the creative cum entertainment space, it’s ego. Those of us who consider ourselves poets, painters, photographers, writers, musicians and actors… We’re all performing in some way. And to put your art in front of an audience for judgment requires no small amount of ego in order to balance out the feelings of inadequacy we ALL harbor. It’s a tortuous existence. Like would be so much easier if we could function like electrical engineers.

Anyway, since this industry is so chockfull of inflated, often exposed egos, we all stand a greater chance of bruising someone’s ego, intentionally or not. And when you bruise a particularly powerful, influential ego, it can dampen or destroy your chances of getting work or expanding your career. Just ask Mira Sorvino. I’ll share a story with you that I’ve never shared before, because it doesn’t pain me as much any more.

A few years ago, I wrote an article about Africans’ collective response to Joseph Kony and the LRA. Ironically, it was one of the few times that I had not written an article on a subject such as this with the intention to offend. But offend it did, something I didn’t discover until much later. Amidst all the feedback I had received from my regular readers– all of it positive – I had never imagined that someone I had never interacted with before nor whose existence I was aware of, had taken note of and exception to the article. This person holds quite a bit of sway in the African literary space.

I heard later through the grapevine that because my article had so offended the sensibilities of this person, I would never ever be invited to participate in their particular literary festival. African literature is a very small space, and so it’s not a stretch to imagine that the players in those spaces speak to one another and it’s not a stretch to imagine that this particular person’s prejudices have colored other peoples’ as well. My likeability, in that arena anyway, has been tainted. Like I said, there ARE times when I do set out to offend, but this was not one of those times. That’s the only reason being shut out from this space wounded me. I earned those wages…but I didn’t work for them.

Mo’Nique – intentionally or not – has ruffled the feathers of very influential, highly visible and publically affable people. From Oprah to Tyler Perry to Roland Martin and more, she has not paused to reflect on how her pointed missiles have come to backfire on her. These are people who command and enjoy intense public support and even if they’ve wronged you personally, it’s just not good business practice to feud with them openly. As talented as Mo’Nique may be, and as right as Mo’nique is about Netflix’s treatment of her, she just doesn’t have the clout to win this battle. At best, she can settle for a cease fire and hope that she hasn’t Katherine Heigl’d herself out of her next opportunity.

In situations like these, we all need to have the sort of self-awareness that Wanda Sykes exhibited when Netflix offered her an insulting $250,000 for a comedy special. (I mean, really. It’s Wanda Sykes.) She looked at the offer, rejected it, and took her talents where they would be better appreciated and better compensated. She went to a platform that celebrated her, not merely tolerated her. That was Netflix’s loss and there’s a lesson in that for all of us.

 

Some people (and platforms) are just not worth the fight.

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