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In this episode, Chelsea dives into popular comedian and actress Mo'Nique's history dealing with unfair contracts and negotiations in Hollywood, and how she exemplifies the limits of the advice to "demand your worth" that so many women are given.

Mo'Nique and Netflix:

Steve Harvey anecdote:

Mo'Nique blackballed:

Mo'Nique and Cannes:

Viola Davis interview:

Women and negotiation challenges:

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Hey, guys, it's Chelsea from The Financial Diet.

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And today, I want to talk to you about something that's maybe a little unexpected for this channel, as we pretty rarely touch on the world of celebrity news. But nonetheless, today, we're going to talk about Mo'Nique, the comedian/Oscar-winning actress. And in some ways, I want to talk about her not because she's particularly in the news right now, because most of what I'm going to talk about took place years ago.

But I want to talk about her because I think what she went through-- and many of us watching may not even be aware of her particular story-- to me represents a much bigger problem in the world of negotiation, self-advocacy, and basically, the individual power of any working person. I happen to be in my own social feeds and news bubbles at a pretty interesting intersection between feminism and personal finance. So I'll see a lot of what I will describe as girl boss feminism.

And a huge calling card of that particular type of feminism is the ask for what you're worth. Demand what you're worth. Set your rates.

What's that Beyonce lyric? It's like, I don't argue with these lazy bitches. I just raise my price-- that kind of thing.

And I do think there is some truth to it because, as we know, most of us watching this channel know that there are pay disparities that fall along gender and racial lines. And in any given situation, personal advocacy is going to be part of that equation. But how far personal advocacy can take you, I think, is often overstated.

I think in a lot of cases, we would be much better off thinking about things like collective bargaining and organizing with our colleagues than we would necessarily hyper focusing on how much we're asking for ourselves. Also, because at the end of the day, even one person, let's say, even a marginalized person getting a certain rate, does not necessarily trickle down to everyone else within that group. But what does Mo'Nique have to do with all of this?

Well, let's get into it. So when it comes to Mo'Nique and pay inequality, although there was a prior incident when she was promoting the movie Precious for Lionsgate, which I will get into a little bit later, the primary issue that we're talking about was when she called for a boycott of Netflix based on an offer that they presented to her for a comedy special. Now, a few things to know about this outside of just the broad numbers-- as Mo'Nique mentioned when she went on to an interview on radio's The Breakfast Club-- but I'll get into that a little bit more later-- it wasn't just for the comedy special.

Like many of these big contracts, it also had a lot of stipulations, like a two-year non-compete clause, meaning that she couldn't go out and do a lot of the other work that would normally be financing her during this two-year period. But outside of the fact that the contract was maybe going further in its demands than she would have been comfortable with, what she particularly took exception to was A, the number that she was offered in comparison to other comedy specials at that time, and B, the way she and her husband/manager Sidney Hicks were treated in the negotiation process. Back in 2018, Mo'Nique called on her fans to boycott Netflix after she believed she was lowballed for a possible comedy special, reportedly only being offered $500,000 despite her resume.

When the Oscar winner pointed out that the same streaming service reportedly gave Chris Rock $40 million and Dave Chappelle $60 million, she eventually went on to sue Netflix for giving her a, quote, biased and discriminatory offer for a one-hour comedy special. For context, around that same time, Amy Schumer was offered a reported $13 million, or for those doing math at home, 26 times more than Mo'Nique was. And comedian Wanda Sykes at the time reported that she was actually offered half of what Mo'Nique was offered.

Now, you could argue that the various pull that these artists represent are in some ways reflected in these pay disparities. But as Mo'Nique raised in a lot of subsequent interviews around her call for the boycott, when you look at the sheer numbers of respective shows and films and productions being put out at the time, there is just no way that you can get to a 26x value on Amy Schumer as compared to Mo'Nique, which says nothing of the fact that amongst all of this group, Mo'Nique is the only Oscar winner, one of the only awards that has been shown statistically to immediately and radically increase an actor's demanding value. Mo'Nique also pointed out in interviews that it wasn't just the initial offer which was, as one radio host described it, utterly foul, it was also the fact that when she and husband/manager Sidney Hicks attempted to come back with a counter offer, they were basically told there was no room to negotiate.

She also outlined some, what sounds like, at minimum, fairly unprofessional behavior on the part of the negotiators. But a lot of that I, frankly, can't substantiate, so I think it's better to focus on the numbers and how we come to them. Now, what makes Mo'Nique's situation particularly interesting is that when she raised the issue about this massive pay disparity-- again, in the case of Amy Schumer she was being offered a full 26 times less-- many of the media outlets that one might think would be supportive actually joined into the shaming.

The reason she went on for that extended interview on The Breakfast Club, which I highly recommend everyone watch-- there's a lot to learn in it, and I'll link it down below-- is because she was called out by, let's just say, provocative host Charlemagne the God as being the, quote, donkey of the day for having done it. She was also pretty thoroughly shamed by TV host Steve Harvey and went on to do an interview with him in which he more or less agreed that she was right to have called it out but should have gone about it in a less combative way. But when it comes to speaking out or not speaking out, accepting deals or not accepting them, entering into agreements that may not be beneficial or not entering them, on that Breakfast Club interview, her husband/manager made what I thought it'd be a pretty great point that tied in what was at the time, a very prominent conversation with the #MeToo movement and the exposure of Harvey Weinstein.

As he put it, the ladies who are going up in the room and saying #MeToo, and people say to them, well, if you're going up there are 2 o'clock in the morning, you're about to get screwed, so why do you go up there and do it? But those same people will say to Mo'Nique, why didn't you go promote a movie for Lionsgate for free? Because you know what they'll do to you.

So now you're in a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation because the women who go up to that room, the reason they do it, they know they'll get screwed if they go up to the room. They just don't know how bad they'll get screwed if they don't go up to the room. Which I think is a very fair point, right?

Because in all of these situations, you see that there are very few good options. And despite the fact that Mo'Nique is a literal Oscar-winning actress with a multi-decade career of success as a comedian, she's also, to put it bluntly, a plus-sized Black woman who is, in the world of Hollywood, typically not considered as valuable as a lot of her peers and puts her in a position of vulnerability not that different from some of the young actresses who are being predated upon by these horrible producers. So you are in that, as he put it, damned if you do, damned if you don't situation because accepting things that are going to be disadvantageous for you as at least a known quantity, but you know not a good one.

But speaking out or refusing is an unknown quantity that ultimately, and in the case of Mo'Nique with this particular example, can lead to much worse consequences. But as I mentioned earlier, this actually isn't the first time that Mo'Nique pointed out something that is pretty outrageous in business terms and was held to serious account by her industry peers. Her speaking out on what many, I think, would consider being an unfair business practice again got her blackballed/labeled petulant.

If the prior example of her initial low ball from Netflix can be understood as a kind of example of being lowballed initially and not really knowing what to do with it-- and as we saw with, for example, "Bon Appetit," many people just go on accepting that initial lowball offer for years and years-- the previous anecdote from Mo'Nique's personal history illustrates a different kind of issue. In this particular issue, which I'll explain momentarily, she was offered an amount that she chose to accept but was contracted for a specific amount of work that was soon being crossed. The term in business is often scope creep.

But essentially, you are contracted and agree upon compensation for a limited set of tasks or roles, and suddenly you find yourself being asked to do much more for the same price. In this instance, Mo'Nique told interviewers that she had done everything she was contracted to do after signing on for just $50,000 to start in Lee Daniels' film Precious, insisting that she had her, quote, friend hat on while negotiating that relatively small sum and not her business hat. The actress said she fulfilled all of her promotional obligations in the US.

But when it was time to plug the film in various countries overseas, something that was not a part of her original contract, Mo'Nique said she opted to spend what little downtime she had at home with her family. She said the folks at Cannes tried on three different occasions to get her to the festival, and on the third phone call, she asked if there was a, quote, dollar amount attached to the offer. Cannes said that they don't pay for actors to promote their films, and the matter was finally put to rest.

Negative publicity appears to have stemmed from a query over financial compensation, which was made when representatives from studio Lionsgate continued to press her to travel. It's not uncommon that beyond just being offered a low amount initially, women and people of color are often subject to this kind of scope creep, where certain tasks are put onto them after the fact that they didn't necessarily agree to. There might be jobs or roles that are considered more their type of work to be doing, or they're simply perceived as lucky to be there and should feel obligated to go well above and beyond the terms of their contract in order to do something that may not even necessarily be beneficial to them, but which they certainly didn't agree to in their initial offer.

Now, you can argue that $50,000 is a completely laughable amount for a role that went on to win that film an Oscar, which does untold amount for everyone involved in that production, and I would. But even if $50,000 was considered a lot for that project, the contract is the contract. The terms are the terms.

And the fact that she was blackballed for refusing to go above and beyond what she was paid to do demonstrates how little respect there is for her. Some of you might remember from her Oscar speech that she made a point of saying that it was good to see that this win was about the acting and not about the politics, what was probably a clear reference to this issue and the fracas that stemmed from it. She also didn't shout out Lee Daniels for a specific thank you in her speech, which undoubtedly, again, has to do with this issue.

But it does go on to further underscore that earlier comment from her husband/manager Sidney about how you are often put in these completely no-win situations. And even when the acting goes so far above and beyond, the quality of the work itself goes so far above and beyond as to win an Oscar, it doesn't necessarily change how things work out for you. Because let's take Mo'Nique aside.

Because, obviously, many people would be quick to point out in her 2018 issue with Netflix that she already had, as an actress, considerable baggage from this Precious issue. What about someone who has no baggage, an Oscar, and a massive hit TV show? I'm talking, of course, about Viola Davis, who had this to say on the subject. "I've got the Oscar.

I've got the Emmy. I've got two Tonys. I've done Broadway.

I've done off-Broadway. I've done TV. I've done film.

I've done all of it. I have a career that's probably comparable to Meryl Streep, or Julianne Moore, or Sigourney Weaver. They all came out of Yale.

They came out of Juilliard. They came out of NYU. They had the same path as me, and yet I am nowhere near them, not as far as money, and not as far as job opportunities-- nowhere close to it.

So you can see that the people who were quick to throw Mo'Nique under the bus or even go so far as to label her a donkey are helping give credence and credit to the kind of systems that will then go on to screw over plenty of people that they probably wouldn't deem worthy of having that happen. Mo'Nique rightfully pointed out in her Breakfast Club interview is that part of the reason that these big, powerful institutions are able to do this to people they perceive as not as strong is because they know that people like Charlemagne the God are going to be carrying water for this. So it goes to show how much everyone's personal response to this sort of discrimination or this sort of unequal treatment in our own lives can unintentionally reinforce and help those in power who are seeking to exploit.

It's not just about what happens to us or what we can self-advocate for. It's also how we're handling everyone else around us and what they're doing. And I would go further to say that this girl bossy, advocate for yourself, demand what you're worth kind of language doesn't just fall short because it fails to consider the collective and what impact that has on bargaining, although it definitely does.

It also in practice demonstrably might work against the people attempting to practice it. Women are penalized for negotiating on their own behalf. In their research, Professor Hannah Riley Bowles of Harvard Business School, Professor Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon University, and Professor Lei Lai of Tulane University found that both male and female study participants were less interested in working with women who attempted to negotiate a better salary than they were with men who tried to negotiate a higher salary.

The fact that women are generally less likely to initiate salary negotiations than men appears to be due at least in part to women's awareness that negotiating can trigger this type of social backlash in the office. People are also more likely to lie to female negotiators than to male negotiators, researchers Laura J. Kray and Alex B.

Van Zant of the University of California, Berkeley, and Jessica A. Kennedy of the University of Pennsylvania found in a new study. Women were lied to more often because participants viewed them as less competent than men and thus less likely to question their lies.

Both men and women were also more likely to give male negotiators preferential treatment by disclosing hidden interests. So it goes to show that even those who do everything right and advocate for themselves may not only not get what they want in the negotiation, but may be further punished for having done so. We may not be able to change any of these issues of negotiation overnight, but as I said, it's important to consider beyond just the actual act of negotiation how we're treating and responding to stories like this, both in our own communities, our own workplaces, but also in the culture at large.

The way that Mo'Nique was treated in the media I think says almost more about the issue than the initial galling offer from Netflix or the pressuring from Lionsgate. We can practice pay transparency in our social circles. We can share good advice.

We can support each other in taking some of these steps. We can become mentors. And we can always be sure not to be a part of the gatekeeping problem, whether in our own workplaces or with respect to possibly reinforcing those in power who are being exploitative.

But perhaps most importantly, we can recognize that someone like Mo'Nique asking for maybe even more than we think that they should fairly be asking for is ultimately, in the long run, a good thing for them to be doing. Speaking up and speaking out will generally always work to the benefit at large of people in these more marginalized groups because it demonstrates that that feeling of should just be happy to be here, or pick up the slack, or be paid 1/26 of what a peer might be paid is becoming less and less acceptable, and more and more people are willing to say something about it. I would, again, of course, point to the "Bon Apetit" fracas and our beautiful, blessed Sohla who is coming out of that phoenix from the ashes as another example.

And through this continued cultural conversation, it's likely that these lowball offers will become less frequent because they will start to pose a risk for the people offering them. Starting to shift how we think of this and no longer putting the emphasis on just every woman for herself and assuming that it's the individual's responsibility to secure that fortune is a good step on the road to us all being in a better place as far as pay equity is concerned. And none of those steps involve calling someone a donkey.

And as I mentioned, this video is sponsored by Fidelity Investments. And they are here to help you reach your savings goals. And if you're looking for an easy way to finally start investing what you save, check out Fidelity.

As always, guys, thank you for watching, and do not forget to hit the Subscribe button and to come back every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday for new and awesome videos. Goodbye.