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My Name Is Mo'Nique Shows Us What Black Women Can Create Without Judgment or Limitations

The comedy vet's profound new special makes it clear she's far from finished in the entertainment industry.
  • Mo'Nique at the Rialto Center for the Arts (Photo: Netflix)
    Mo'Nique at the Rialto Center for the Arts (Photo: Netflix)

    Before Mo’Nique even walks onto the stage at the Rialto Center for the Arts in Atlanta, she reminds us of the criticism and insults she’s faced over the years with audio clips of those who taunted her. When Mo’Nique demanded higher pay as one of the most famous Black female comedians in the world, she was called “Donkey of the Day” by radio DJs. She was told she burned too many bridges to ever have the fame she once knew. Mo’Nique wants you to know she heard all of it, and her response? “Thank you for the encouragement.”

    In My Name is Mo’Nique, the comic’s undeniable talent is on display. As confident and energetic as she was in The Queens of Comedy, the 2000 standup special that made her a household name… well, in Black households. And, well, given the lack of respect Black female comedians face, perhaps a lesser comedian would’ve folded under the scrutiny. Mo’Nique, however, shares details of the life that made her impervious to doubting herself: an illiterate mother, attending racist special education classes from 7th to 9th grade, and defending her classmates.

    Family anecdotes and details of her marriages make one thing clear: Mo’Nique has always been who she is. When Mo’Nique told Lee Daniels he could suck her d*ck if she had one? That was in honor of her Uncle Donald, a gay man who was constantly physically attacked at his favorite bar. When his mother asked him to stop going, he responded, “Momma, you can kiss my d*ck.” It can’t be a surprise that this is the energy Mo’Nique brought with her from Baltimore to Hollywood. 

    “If it ain’t right, fight. I came with that spirit” is the special’s thesis. When a “white white” teacher (white white means racist here) refuses to pronounce Mo’Nique’s name correctly, she refuses to answer him until he does. When the teacher tries to separate Black and white students so he could teach the Black students how to speak “properly,” Mo’Nique stands up to him for segregating the class. As she explains, “If I know you out of order, I’m gonna call you to the mat every goddamn time, and I’m in the 7th grade.” It’s no surprise Mo’Nique knew she was strong enough to withstand calling out Hollywood and those who said she wasn’t Dave Chappelle or Amy Schumer and didn’t deserve their level of pay. 

    But as those bigger names complain about younger audiences or focus on claims of “cancel culture,” Mo’Nique can’t be bothered with such complaints in her special. She’s already been told her career was “canceled” and clearly isn’t worried about saying the wrong thing as she takes on homosexuality in the Black community and eventually shares that she realized late in life she was bisexual. This isn’t Chappelle’s fear of the “alphabet army,” just Mo’Nique’s genuine appreciation and support for a community she has a complex relationship with. She admits she doesn’t feel complete acceptance among the LGBTQ community, but she also understands why people may not want to make her the poster girl for bisexuality when she only desires casual relationships with women. It’s a level of reflection and honesty many comics fail to face or call out in their work, but Mo’Nique is beyond the fear of sharing her true self. 

    The reveal that Mo’Nique has struggled with her sexuality is beautifully handled as she explains her fears around coming out. She saw how her grandmother struggled to embrace her gay uncle and a trans relative and feared she’d lose the love of her family. When she eventually sits her husband down and says she has something serious to share, he assumes she must be talking about a murder before joyously accepting this news. And, sure, there are probably few men who would responded badly to the news that their wife wants to casually sleep with women, but here it feels like the relief of radical acceptance for someone who hasn’t been afforded that in life. With this special, Mo’Nique shows us what Black women can create without judgment or limitations. It’s a beautiful, personal, and deeply funny piece that summarizes the amazing life she’s had so far and makes clear she’s far from finished in the entertainment industry.    

    The reason for Mo’Nique’s longevity — her career spans decades — is on display in My Name is Mo’Nique. Gray hairs don’t stop her from swearing like she’s still performing on Def Comedy Jam. She hits physical act-outs with energy. If you thought Mo’Nique was blacklisted in Hollywood because her abilities faded, that couldn’t be further from the truth. She can even point at her own ego and how it’s caused issues in her personal relationships. She can even make fun of herself and her poor hygiene after a full day of filming for The Parkers. If the criticisms were true — she’s difficult, she’s ungrateful, she burns bridges — it doesn’t seem like Mo’Nique would be afraid to make fun of herself for this. But, the truth is, Mo’Nique was never the issue — it was the expectations forced on Black women. They expected her to be grateful for scraps and fall in line no matter how they insulted her with low pay. 

    “I can’t stand a motherf*ckin’ bully!” Monique explains at the midway point of her special, which seems to be a spin on not “punching down” as a comic. Despite naming Lee Daniels (who is in the audience at the Rialto) and using voice clips from people who judged her, she doesn’t even punch up at them. She’s the true talent who manages to find the comedic aspects of her own life and experiences. There’s no desperate attempt to stay relevant by shoehorning in trending topics or controversies. Why jump on the bandwagon of what’s popular when she has plenty of material around her alcoholic father, a brother who stole from her, and a grandmother who taught her sucking a d*ck would cause it to explode? This is just Mo’Nique, her life — and she isn’t disappointed about how any of it worked out. 

    This is because there will always be something relevant about Mo’Nique’s story so long as Black women are being disregarded and told to internalize respectability politics. Mo’Nique makes clear that she has always been too loud, too outspoken, and too much because every Black woman is seen that way in a world that wishes to limit and minimize their impact. Over the last few days, we’ve seen adults come out to insult and criticize Angel Reese, a Black female college basketball player, who dared to believe in her abilities and speak up for herself for acting “inappropriately.” As though Reese, like Mo’Nique, deserves this treatment for being seen as ungrateful or difficult. 

    There is, obviously, a considerable age gap between Mo’Nique and Reese, but the fact is: Mo’Nique’s words resonate across generations of Black women. She laid a path and took the hits that allowed comedians like Quinta Brunson and Robin Thede to create with less fear of being judged or being seen as a monolith for all Black women. At the end of the day, Mo’Nique doesn’t want the same fame as Chappelle or Schumer — she wants us to know that she’s an individual with her own story worth telling, and she does indeed deserve to be paid what that story is worth. 

    My Name Is Mo’Nique is now streaming on Netflix.

    Ashley Ray is a comedian and pop culture expert. You can follow her at @theashleyray

    TOPICS: Mo'Nique: My Name Is Mo'Nique, Netflix, Mo'Nique

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