Why Mo'Nique is suing Netflix for racism and sexism after being offered $500,000 for a comedy special

On Thursday a federal judge denied a motion by Netflix to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Mo'Nique, a Black comedian and actor perhaps best known for her Oscar-winning performance in the 2009 film Precious.

Mo'Nique has had a long-running feud with Netflix, even calling for a boycott in 2018.

Now, she's suing the streaming service for discrimination.

What happened?

In 2017, Mo'Nique says she was offered $500,000 by Netflix for a stand-up special.

While half a million dollars sounds like a huge sum, she alleges that it was a drop in the ocean compared to the millions offered to men and white women.

She claimed that Amy Schumer was offered $11m, while Chris Roch and Dave Chapelle were offered $20m for their comedy specials.

In January 2018, she posted an Instagram video urging her fans to stand with her and boycott Netflix for "gender bias and colour bias".

Black actor Wanda Sykes then came forward with a similar claim, stating that she was offered "less than half" of what Mo'Nique was.

Mo'Nique then released another video, asking: "How is that Wanda Sykes and Mo’Nique together, these two black women who have 50-plus years in the comedy game, be offered $750,000 between the both of us and Amy Schumer get $13m?”

What does Mo'Nique say?

The lawsuit, which was filed in 2019, alleges that that: "Netflix’s treatment of Mo’Nique began with a discriminatory low-ball offer and ended with a blacklisting act of retaliation."

She claims that after she spoke out publicly about the offer she received, Netflix "retaliated against her by shutting down its standard practice of negotiating in good faith that typically results in increased monetary compensation".

Mo'Nique highlights that Schumer was able to negotiate with Netflix, culminating in an increase of $2m compared to her initial offer, while Mo'Nique was shut down for speaking out.

The legal complaint says that: "Netflix’s business practice of paying Black women less than non-Black women for substantially equal or similar work causes harm to plaintiff that outweighs any reason Netflix may have for doing so."

What does Netflix say?

indy100 has reached out to Netflix to see if they want to tell us their side of the story, but we have yet to hear back.

It's unknown what Netflix's counterargument would be if the case were to reach the court, but it has attempted to get the case dismissed based on "the absence of on-point legal authority" for her claim, particular the allegation of retaliation.

The ruling on Thursday coincided with the naming of chief content officer Ted Sarandos as co-CEO, and the company seems to have avoided commenting on it so far.

However, according to USA Today, Netflix stated in response to the suit being filed last year that it "takes accusations of discrimination very seriously and would fight Mo’Nique's lawsuit, describing their opening offer to her as fair".

What happens next?

Unclear. Netflix could potentially file another motion to dismiss on different grounds, or try to settle with Mo'Nique instead of going to trial.

However, it seems unlikely that Mo'Nique would accept a settlement.

When she announced the lawsuit on Instagram, she said part of her motivation to pursue legal action was to "stand up for those who came before me and those who will come after me".

The timing of the suit should worry Neflix.

Since the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sparked a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, a number of household brands have been called out for racist behaviour, from problematic slogans to racist attitudes towards employees.

The entertainment industry has also faced its own reckoning, with films and TV episodes being taken off streaming platforms for featuring racist scenes or undercurrents.

Netflix has thus far avoided too much controversy in this space, but if Mo'Nique continues to get her way, all that may be about to change.

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