Actress Mo’Nique got candid with Shannon Sharpe in the Feb. 7 episode Club Shay Shay about how she didn’t receive the same support as Taraji P. Henson did when she called out Hollywood’s inequities because of the industry’s colorism and fatphobia.
Twenty minutes into the interview, Sharpe agreed that Mo’Nique had voiced the same Hollywood injustices years before Henson. He asked the comedian why she believed the Hustle & Flow actress gained more traction for calling out Hollywood inequities toward Black actresses. Mo’Nique kept it a buck and said it was because she was Black and fat.
“I think there’s a few reasons why,” the 56-year-old comedienne said. “Number one, it was the messenger. I should just be grateful I got invited to the party. You a big fat Black woman, and dare you be the one. And then, on top of that, you’re saying names. You’re saying Oprah’s [Winfrey] name out loud. You’re saying Tyler’s [erry] name out loud. You’re saying Lee’s name out loud. You’re saying Lion’s Gate out loud. That’s not what we do. We say they. We say the people. We say the studio. We say the producers.”
Mo’Nique implied her fight against Hollywood’s injustices and her specifically calling out some of Hollywood’s Black elites was washed from history, like activist Claudette Colvin, who was 15 when she refused to relinquish her seat on a crowded bus to a white woman in 1955—nine months before Rosa Parks did.
According to NPR’s 2009 interview with Colvin, the NAACP felt Parks was a better representation because many associated her hair and skin texture with the middle class. Further, Parks was known and respected as the secretary of the NAACP and had a “natural gravitas.” Unfortunately, Colvin discovered she was pregnant after her arrest, and the organization’s leaders believed an unwed and pregnant teenager and the organization’s initiative would face public scrutiny if she were a symbol of the NAACVP’s test case.
And Mo’Nique may be on to something.
For years, Mo’Nique has been vocal about the injustices done to her by Hollywood, from getting underpaid for the hit show The Parkers and her refusal to do a free press run for Precious to her claiming Netflix lowballed Black women. She even publicly reprobated prominent stars like Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, who she claimed contributed to the problem. Yet, she received more backlash than support for her negative personal experiences.
So, with Henson and Mo’Nique griping about the same issues (in different manners), it’s hard to miss the dissimilar public responses, with the (I) Color Purple actress gaining more support from fans and fellow celebrities than Mo’Nique’s. One can see how the two actresses’ different physical appearances could’ve contributed to the feedback they received from cybernauts. Hollywood’s repeated misrepresentation of fat Black actresses drives her point, and Mo’Nique’s roles show that.
A Rep Project study on the representations of fat women and girls in Hollywood showed that 14.9% of Black women and girls are represented in the top films, and 32.4% of them are represented in top TV.
Hollywood has slightly improved with how they portray fat Black actresses. They’ve slowly moved from the stereotypical funny, fat Black girl and portrayed them more seriously. Exhibit the Lifetime film (i)Single Black, starring Amber Riley, who played the stereotypical heavy Black girl role in Glee, and Raven Goodwin, who had a similar role in Disney Channel’s Good Luck Charlie.
The problem with Mo’Nique is that although she had a few serious acting gigs that showcase how much of a versatile actress she is, her prominent roles are too sexualized. For example, in The Parkers, Mo’Nique’s character, Nikki, constantly tries to make a pass at Professor Stanley Oglevee (Dorien Wilson) despite him rejecting her and her sexual advances. The show ran for five seasons (1999 to 2004).
Her character Betty in Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins is painted as a “prison hoe” because she would fornicate with the prisoners but disguise it as bible study. Mo’Nique achieved an Oscar award for Best Supporting Actress in 2010 for her performance in Precious, one of her outstanding roles, where she played an abusive mother, Mary, who sexually and physically abused her daughter, Precious.
These roles don’t undermine Mo’Nique’s success as an actress but highlight the issue that the entertainment industry constantly sexualizes Black women, especially the heavier sisters.
A study from the University of Washington Tacoma showed that Black women usually play the roles of “the ‘hoe,’ the ‘stripper,’ the baby mama, and the jezebel stereotype, which ‘represents the African American woman as a promiscuous man-eater.'”
And with the media portraying heavier Black actresses as this, it’s difficult for the world to take those actresses seriously when they speak against the injustices done to them.
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