For Tobi, whose tweet inspired this post and whose tireless work championing black, British women has directly, positively influenced my writing career.
My mum curated my experience of blackness on television and in film by directing me to the channels on Sky that represented me when I was younger. My mum, in her infinite wisdom, also collected a vast array of videos and DVDs starring black actors but had a penchant for comedy specials. We had the whole Def Comedy Jam collection and all of Walter Latham’s titles including The Queens of Comedy. It was in that special, showcasing the talents of Adele Givens, Sommore and Laura Hayes, that I was first introduced to Mo’Nique’s no holds barred brand. Unshackled from her TV-safe turn as Nikki Parker in Moesha and The Parkers, I was shocked, delighted and in awe by her, and her colleagues; their ability to be just as raw, equally as funny- if not more hilarious than The Original Kings of Comedy.
Despite having watched her steady rise, nothing prepared me for Mo’Nique’s performance in Precious. It was Oscar worthy and without fail The Academy, The Hollywood Foreign Press and **fifty-three** other bodies awarded her for her turn as Mary in the Lee Daniels directed film adaptation of Push by Sapphire. The critical acclaim heaped upon her did not translate into the post-Oscar roles other Academy Award winners have enjoyed. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in 2015 Mo’Nique revealed she had been unable to work in Hollywood and Lee Daniels called to let her know “you've been blackballed…because you didn't play the game." Later, Daniels appeared on CNN where he confirmed to Don Lemon a conversation between them did happen, but that it was her “unreasonable demands” on set and during the Oscar campaign that hurt her career and Mo’Nique could change the industry’s perception of her “if she plays ball.”
Tambay Obenson details in his article entitled “Growing Resentment Of Oscar Campaigns Recalls Mo’Nique’s Controversial ‘Precious’ Choice” the lengths to which journalists went to criticise her refusal to campaign for her Academy Award as is the industry standard operating procedure for all would be nominees. Obenson recalls a Vanity Fair article with the headline “Oscars: The Mo’Nique Problem”, in which Jeffery Wells, summoning misogynoir powers of the highest order, called Mo’Nique “a genuine primitive” and went on to question “Did she pretend not to understand the financial benefits of an Oscar race during that talk-show or is she really that thick?” The gag is she did understand all of that but as she stated in her initial THR interview, she just didn’t want to campaign. “You want me to campaign for an award — and I say this with all the humility in the world — but you want me to campaign for an award that I didn't ask for." Tambay Obenson’s article lists David Cronenberg, Joaquin Phoenix, Anthony Hopkins, Matt Damon and Michael Fassbender as industry juggernauts who have all either spoken out against the system or also flat out refused to campaign for Academy Awards themselves echoing Mo’Nique’s sentiments and as Obenson rightly points out “I’ve yet to see any pieces titled ‘Oscars: The Michael Fassbender Problem…”
On stage at the Apollo Theatre in New York two weeks ago, Mo’Nique rehashed her frustration with her former collaborators. “Thank you, Mr Lee Daniels. Thank you, Mr Tyler Perry. Thank You Miss Oprah Winfrey. No baby, I wasn’t blackballed. I was fucked up by some niggers who don’t have no balls.” Not Queen Oprah, Mo’Nique.
"I am unapologetic [about] what I said to Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and Lee Daniels," Essence reported Mo’Nique as saying in a podcast and you know me, I’m always ready to take up arms to protect my Queen Oprah as valiantly as my body will allow me. However, when Mo’Nique shared the reason why she lumped Winfrey in with Perry and Daniels, I stood down. In 2010, after her Academy Award win, Gerald Imes, Mo’Nique’s brother appeared with her parents on The Oprah Winfrey Show to admit he sexually abused Mo’Nique when she was a child, a move she was hurt by and felt capitalised off her pain. "I shared with Oprah Winfrey that me and my mother were not on good terms… I said to that sister, 'Right now I'm really going through it, it's really bad.'... Had Oprah said to me, 'I have your mother.' I would have shut that shit down.” It's clear Mo’Nique’s beyond giving a fuck at this point to so boldly go after an institution like Oprah. Ryan Schoket at Buzzfeed makes it clear Oprah had permission from Mo'Nique for her brother to appear on the show, it was the appearance of her parents, from who she is estranged, that enraged her.
Now here comes Adrienne Bailon with her uncooked hot takes no one ordered. “Now, I have an issue with people thinking that every time someone is loud or boisterous or saying something negative, that that’s them keeping it real. Why can’t keeping it real be classy? Why can’t keeping it real be, ‘let me hold my peace and let me move on?’ Why can’t keeping it real be, ‘you know what – they may have done that but I’m going to respect that and move forward.’ Why can’t that be keeping it real?” Give me room, I’m going in.
When the news first broke in 2015, I tweeted I felt “Mo’Nique had a responsibility to promote the movie” highlighting I had no clue what I was talking about but more so, my thread unconsciously fed into and helped propagate the stereotype black women are “difficult” and “demanding” against Mo’Nique. Far from a victim, she has demanded the same liberties afforded to her white, male counterparts and in return for daring to not “play ball” has been declared “dead to Hollywood because of her insolence.” She behaved in a way not uncommon for white men actors but was told to stop with the “excuses” for why her career stalled, be “classy” and “move forward.”
“I’m an actor, not a politician” Michael Fassbender quipped when pressed on why he wasn’t campaigning for 12 Years A Slave. Director Steve McQueen supported his decision saying “His campaign is on screen. That’s Michael Fassbender’s Oscar campaign.” His career thrived in spite of his disobedience. In Mo’Nique’s case, her status as a fat, black woman who famously chose to flaunt her hairy legs, while sticking two middle fingers up at the establishment and still won was unacceptable and had to be disciplined. How differently would her career have panned out if Lee Daniels had supported her decision the way McQueen supported Fassbender’s instead of singing “que sera sera” on the news when discussing her career in which he clearly had a hand in floundering. Mo’Nique’s roles post-Precious have been few and far between and now she’s on her comedy tour speaking her truth, as unpleasant as it may sound to those unfamiliar with the candour of her comedic brand, Mo’Nique’s anger should not be censored in anyway, even if she speaks ill of Oprah an entire Winfrey perhaps because she's done so. How angry must you be to fix your mouth to speak about Oprah Winfrey in that way? How far must you have been pushed to gather up the temerity to go on stage at the Apollo and go off that way?
Where were these calls to be "classy" when Jeffrey Wells called Mo’Nique “a genuine primitive”? Where were the demands on her brother to behave when he was paraded on television to admit he raped her when she was a child? So often are the crimes against black women, the perpetrators and their barbarism minimised while the righteous anger of said black women is highlighted, analysed and diminished, that even the educated and well versed amongst us overlook and dismiss the validity of their emotions. So willing is Adrienne Bailon to subscribe to the “loud, angry, black woman” trope she dared to suggest “there’s a way to address” the systematic obstruction of one’s career; a career Mo’Nique worked years to cultivate. If she hadn’t have said what she did, I wouldn’t have collected my receipts to present to the court today. I would have gone on believing she helped blackball herself. Listen, I’m a black woman working in TV, I know what it means to “play the game”. Without explicitly declaring it, “playing the game” demands black women, especially and specifically be less black, be less woman, fit in so you can get ahead- the more I hear it, the more I want to be like Mo’Nique and tell everyone to kiss my ass. Alas, I don’t have my Academy Award yet so batter up!
It is imperative black women continue to use whatever platform they have to give voice to their disenfranchisement regardless of how uncomfortable it makes people feel because to suffer in silence is to pretend we are endlessly strong and capable of withstanding any and all blows society and our respective industries rain upon us and that’s a lie, a construct created to deny us the fullness of our emotions. We hurt too. We get angry too. And our anger is rarely based on thin air or a racially ingrained desire to be “boisterous.” Before policing black women’s anger and telling us how to behave, find out why we’re angry, go to the root, inspect the earth in which our feelings are anchored and more often than not you’ll find the cause; people trying to chastise us for our audacity to know as loud and as boisterous as we can be we’re people too.
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