Mo'Nique on Oscars Controversy: I Won't Boycott, But I Won't Watch, Either

Matt Petit

The Academy Award winner says she refuses to present, too, because the Academy does not pay to fly her team to Los Angeles.

In February 2015, Mo'Nique roiled the industry by revealing to The Hollywood Reporter that Lee Daniels — who directed her to an Oscar victory in 2009's Precious — told her she'd been "blackballed" over "difficult" behavior. Turns out that wasn't quite the case. In the year that followed, the Georgia-based actress-comedian reemerged from a six-year screen hiatus, playing singer Ma Rainey in Bessie, an HBO movie about blues legend Bessie Smith, and the religious mother of a gay teen son in the indie drama Blackbird.

Now 48, Mo'Nique divides much of her time between touring as a comic and raising three boys, 10-year-old twins and a 12-year-old, with husband and manager, Sidney Hicks. (She's also mother to a 25-year-old son from a previous marriage.) THR recently caught up with Mo'Nique for a candid conversation about the subject currently consuming Hollywood: the Academy Awards' complete shut-out of minority acting nominees for the second year in a row. As one of only seven black women to win one, it's a topic she is uniquely qualified to discuss. 

Do you feel the Oscars is not a ceremony for black people?

How long have you been watching the Oscars?

Probably since the late '70s.

Now, if you’ve been watching the Oscars since the ‘70s, how many people of color — because I don’t want to just make it about black people — have won that award versus people who are white?

Maybe 3 percent versus 97 percent? Maybe less?

So it’s 2016 and you’re asking me, as a person of color, "Do I really think that the Oscars are not for people of color?" Now I’m asking you, as a person not of color, what do you think? Do you believe your eyes or are you going to let them lie to you? 

Obviously the system is unfair and there’s a discrepancy that needs to be fixed and now they’re taking active steps to do that. But Oscar has acknowledged certain African-American artists over the years, beginning with Hattie McDaniel and Sidney Poitier and Halle Berry through to yourself. It’s taken time to acknowledge these parts but they do get recognition. 

When you say "it’s taken time," what do you mean by that?

The way I see it, it's all indicative of a bigger problem in mainstream filmmaking. And not just about people of color. For a long time gay people and trans people and all kinds of people did not see their realities reflected on screens. In 2016, the world does not look how it looked 50, 80 years ago and it is time for a much faster change. That’s how I feel. 

So if you as a white man feel that way, how do you think we as people of color feel? So that’s why when I say oftentimes it’s better that we have a conversation and it not be questions and answers. Then we have a better interview. Because when you start answering your own questions, you answer the question you’re asking me. Which is, “Mo’Nique do you really feel that it’s not for people of color?” Well, you answered it. You as a child have been watching the Oscars since the ‘70s and you said it’s 97 percent white. Well that’s a huge gap. You’re not saying it’s 60-40. Not 70-30. It’s 97-3.

Are you planning on boycotting the Oscars? 

No. But I wasn’t planning on watching the Oscars. (Laughs.)

Do you expect to be invited? You are an Oscar winner, after all.

They did invite me last year. Do I plan on boycotting? No. But I haven’t planned on watching it. Because growing up as a little girl, I didn’t see people like me getting that award.

But you won one. Against all odds you got an Oscar. And like you said, you didn’t campaign for it. You got it for the strength of your performance.

I think that there are some performances that happen in this movie industry that the people say, “You can’t deny that performance.” But when you say you won one, what does that mean, that I should always watch the Oscars because I won one?

Let’s say they said to you, “Mo’Nique, we want you to present the best actress award this year. Yes the field is all white women, but we want you to represent on the Oscar stage.” Would you do that?

At this point I would not because I’m on tour. And any time I get with my family, that’s where I spend it. So if they were to call, I would say, “I appreciate it, but when I’m on the road, I am with my family.” The year after I won my award, they asked me to come back and present. That was tradition. Well, I don’t live in California, I live in Georgia, so I said, “Sure, I’ll do that. I don’t have a problem with tradition. However,” and it actually was my husband having the conversation, “you will have to fly Mo’Nique and her team out and you would have to pay for her team — for hair and makeup and wardrobe — because that’s a night where there’s a lot of picture-taking and it’s TV.” And they said, “That’s not something that we do. We don’t fly anyone in and pay for anyone and put anyone up.” And we said, “We understand. But that’s not something we do either. We don’t pay out money to come on your program. We understand tradition but it’s our tradition that we can’t do it for free.” They said they understood and there were no hard feelings and we said maybe one day down the road we can do business. That’s what it was.

To be clear, you’re not boycotting, but if they were to pay to fly you and your team out, you still wouldn’t do it because you’re on tour right now.

I’ve said it twice: When I’m on tour, any time I get off I spend with my family. I’m a wife and a mother. Now, I’ve said it to you twice and you come back with, “But if they offered you this,” as if to say, “Your family is unimportant, this is Hollywood.”

What if they paid to fly your family out too?

I put my family before fame. When you read those [show business] biographies, a lot of them say, “I gave everything to the business and nothing to my family. So when I got to the end of my journey there was no family there nor was there the business." I don’t want that to be my story. So it’s not just the Oscars — it’s any awards show. Now if someone calls and says, “We want to offer you a movie deal,” and it makes sense, then yes. Because it’s a financial benefit for my family. We do what we need to do but not for the sake of having my picture taken.

What work by black actors and filmmakers did you feel was egregiously overlooked by the Academy this year?

I don’t put that kind of value onto an award show. But Idris Elba’s performance in Beasts of No Nation was amazing. Michael B. Jordan in Creed was amazing. All of the brothers that played N.W.A. in Straight Outta Compton were amazing. But their award and reward will come when they get the paychecks that go along with those performances. If you ask any talent — black, white, Asian, Latino — would you rather have: a trophy or the multimillion-dollar paycheck that goes along with your performance, which would you rather have?

I would take the money.

(Laughs.) Right! You would take the money.

But sometimes you can have the money and the Oscar. And sometimes the Oscar gets you the money.

I agree with you, that is the tradition. But who does it get the bigger paychecks for?

I guess you’re saying just white actors.

So when you say, “Well, like, I guess white actors,” let’s not take a guess. Who gets attached to the big paychecks? How many stories have you read that a black actress signed a multimillion-dollar movie deal after winning the Oscar?

Halle Berry’s done well for herself. And Denzel Washington gets paid millions of dollars.

I said black actresses. Denzel Washington was already a multimillion-dollar actor. Now you named Halle Berry. Name me another one.

I can’t.

(Laughs.) As my husband has said to me over and over again, he says, “Mama, it’s not that they’re bad people. They just haven’t had the conversations that allow them to think differently.” So when people ask me about Hollywood and racism, it’s not that there’s racism and they are horrible people. No. We’ve just been conditioned and it’s a tradition that it’s only been done this way.

Do you resent your Oscar?

Here’s the thing: Please don’t ever put words in my mouth or think that you know what I’m thinking. I’m grateful for every award where some people said, “We think you deserve this.” May it be Maxine Waters Preparatory School where 12 women who are getting their life back on track said, “Mo’Nique, we want to give you this plaque.” I’m grateful for every award I’ve ever been given. I have never been resentful about anything because that would say a lot about me. No, I don’t resent it. I am simply saying I haven’t received the big paychecks yet. 

Listen to Mo'Nique and husband Sidney Hicks discuss the Oscars in depth on their podcast, Mo'Nique and Sidney's Open Relationship.