Veronica R. Wells
Why Were We Here For Tracee Ellis Ross & Not Mo'Nique?
There's a difference between being woke and being a revolutionary. Being woke means your eyes are open, you can see the shenanigans in the system, the disenfranchisement, the corruption, the racism, the lies. And in your wokeness, you may exercise the decision to speak up and out about what you see. But when you're a revolutionary, not only do you speak up, you risk friendships, burn bridges, lose money, and maybe even your life. Many of us brag and boast about being woke. But only a small number can claim the title of revolutionary.
Last week, on MadameNoire, my friend, Victoria Uwumarogie, and I wrote two pieces that had niggas outraged. Victoria’s piece was published on Wednesday, January 18. It was about Tracee Ellis Ross being paid significantly less than her co-star Anthony Anderson on “black-ish.” The article made mention of her attempts to renegotiate. The responses came flooding in.
To be fair, there were plenty of people who argued that Anthony Anderson gets paid more because he does more work on the show. He’s the executive producer, he narrates, and if you’ll recall Anderson has been clawing his way up the industry ladder for decades. Still, for the most part, people were in support of Ross. They certainly didn’t make any disparaging remarks about her character, her talent or her demands.
The very next day, Thursday, January 19, I wrote about Mo'Nique asking us to boycott Netflix because they offered her $500,000 for a comedy special when it was national news that Amy Schumer had been offered $11 million and ultimately paid $13.
And like I said, when we posted the article on social media, niggas were outraged. But for an entirely different reason.
If you thought these were just random people on the internet pontificating like we always do, think again. There was also plenty of criticism from other Black male comedians and personalities as well.
Charlamagne tha God gave MoNique “Donkey of the Day,” saying that Netflix’s offer couldn’t have been race and gender bias because Amy’s a woman and Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock are Black. “We all know that the wage gap between men and women is real but this isn’t one of those times. This is based on who’s hot and who’s not.”
Tony Rock, in an interview with TMZ, said, “I wouldn’t consider her great but she’s done some great things.” He also said it was poor etiquette to count someone else’s money. I guess Tony Rock forgot that his brother’s deposit statement made national news.
According to Mo’Nique’s webseries with her husband Sidney Hicks, “Mo’Nique and Sidney’s Open Relationship,” she said that Steve Harvey, on his radio show, said, “Here she go again. She done burned a lot of bridges. What she should have done is go back and renegotiate.”
I can’t say I’m all that surprised. Black men, as a collective, don’t make a habit out of defending and supporting Black women who aren’t somehow connected to them. What was more interesting to me was the difference in reception to two Black women asking for what they believe they’re worth.
There were so many arguments about Mo’Nique’s contribution to the culture. People argued that it just wasn’t enough to warrant $500,000. But I never saw anyone question Tracee’s credentials. As a fan of “black-ish,” I often finish an episode wondering why Bow, the character Ross plays, wasn’t utilized more in the show. I was surprised by the awards she won, not because she lacks talent and doesn’t deserve them but because I don’t know if she always gets the opportunity to shine in the way I think she should.
There were people who brought up Mo’Nique’s past work, the fact that she hadn’t worked in stand up for a while. One of the men I mentioned above, referenced “The Parkers” as the last thing Mo’Nique had done. Interestingly, enough no one mentioned Tracee’s resume or the fact before “black-ish,” “Girlfriends” was her last successful sitcom. I don’t say this to belittle anyone’s accomplishments. I say it to discuss the reason why Mo’Nique was met with such vitriol.
It’s got to be the boycott. I mentioned in at the beginning of this piece the difference between being woke and being a revolutionary. We’re all woke enough to recognize the gender wage gap. But very few of us are willing to do anything about. And I’m not going to front, I agree with Mo’Nique wholeheartedly but I won’t be boycotting Netflix. With my introversion and people aversion, it plays a significant role in my life.
I think people liked the fact that the news of Tracee asking for more leaked as opposed to Mo’Nique coming out guns blazing, essentially screaming “Bitch, better have my money.” If we’ll tolerate an outspoken Black woman, we’d like her to be the right type of victim. It’s better if she’s lighter, thinner, quieter, closer to Hollywood’s type of pretty.
But during her webseries, Mo’Nique admitted that she’s taken the charge of being the loud, tacky, ratchet, Black woman. Those are adjectives most of us run from. And while it’s a strategy that has helped in the short term, with feet in doors and favorable performance reviews, it’s also rendered us complicit to our own oppression. We’ve all read Zora’s words, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” And we know them to be true. Far too many of us have been discouraged to learn that making it into the room and having a seat at the table doesn’t always mean people will hear what you have to say. There’s a good chance that Netflix offered Mo’Nique not what they thought she was worth but what they believed she would accept. But this time, Netflix thought wrong. And instead of continuing to negotiate with the corporation about the number, she took the conversation to the community.
Most of us aren’t about that Mo’Nique life. It’s scary. It’s scary to challenge the system, the people with the money. It’s scary to watch as friends and colleagues choose the system over their own community. It’s scary to be lampooned by Black folk, men and women alike, for demanding the equalities we’ve been afraid to request. Who doesn’t have a Black auntie, sister, cousin or momma who’s been receiving less than she’s worth, while White women and men of all colors consistently, historically, systematically outearn her?
It’s scary for us. But for Mo’Nique it’s not. Years ago, when she spoke up and out against Lee Daniels’ claims that she was difficult, Mo’Nique sat down with Roland Martin to discuss the controversy. And during that time, she said something that has explained not only the mess with Lee and nem but also this current discussion.
Interestingly enough, back in 2015, Roland Martin quoted $500,000 as an offer rather than $1 million or more. "They're going to pay the $500,000, take the $500,000. They're not going to offer you the $2 million or $3 million. Just take the 5. What are you doing? (As in, what would you do?)
Mo’Nique said: "I can't accept that; because again, I have children and there's a little girl who's not here yet, that's depending on us to make it different when she knock on the door. Because that's what Hattie [McDaniel] did for me. That's what so many did before I came along. So many took the abuse. So many had no options. So many had to take whatever was thrown their way. So for all the ones that came before me that said, 'Mo'Nique you don't have to endure that. You can go a different route.' And I'm grateful for that."
For her, it’s bigger than her career. It’s bigger than walking away from the money Netflix put on the table. It’s about highlighting an injustice and leaving a legacy for the Black women, inside of the Hollywood machine and out, who will come behind her.
To echo Jada Pinkett Smith, we don’t have to like the approach, we don’t have to participate in the boycott. But I think it’s a shame that in our disgust for Mo’Nique we’ve lost sight of the importance and the necessity of the conversation for Black women in every industry.