As Mo'Nique tells it, she was blackballed in Hollywood for saying one word: no."I said no to some very powerful people," she said to Steve Harvey on Wednesday.
The actress, who would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2010 for her role in "Precious," said she and her husband "got labelled as difficult" when she refused the overtures of the film's producers to campaign for the honoUr without additional pay. The first line of her acceptance speech that night reflected her defiant stance: "I would like to thank the Academy for showing that it can be about the performance and not the politics."
But instead of a career filled with steady work reflective of Oscar glory, the four film roles listed on her IMDB page since 2009 tell a decidedly different trajectory.
In a tense 11-minute discussion on Wednesday's "Steve," Harvey and Mo'Nique debated her claims about being blackballed and what her story means for black entertainers in the industry. The exchange went viral on social media, with many accusing Harvey of telling Mo'Nique to sell out and choose money over integrity.
"When you tell the truth, you have to deal with the repercussions of the truth," Harvey told her. "We black out here. We can't come out here and do it any kind of way we want to. ... This is the money game. This ain't the black man's game, this ain't the white man's game. This is the money game!"
As Mo'Nique tried to get in a word, Harvey argued over her that "the best thing you can do for poor people is not be one of them."
Mo'Nique has said repeatedly that her clash with the producers on "Precious," a powerful group that included Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and director Lee Daniels, led to her getting blackballed. Daniels confirmed that her behavior caused a rift with the industry, telling the Hollywood Reporter in 2015 that "her demands through 'Precious' were not always in line with the campaign. This soured her relationship with the Hollywood community." But he's also denied that she was blackballed.
"For her to bad-mouth myself and Tyler and Oprah, is disrespectful and it's wrong. ... No one blackballed her," Daniels told TMZ last year. "Mo'Nique blackballed her. For her to continue to talk about Oprah and myself and Tyler is disrespectful."
Last year, Mo'Nique pushed a boycott of Netflix for "gender bias and colour bias" after she said she was offered just $500,000 to do a comedy special, a fraction of the eight-figure payouts awarded to the likes of Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock and Amy Schumer. Harvey commended her for speaking out against Netflix, but continued to question her methods in pushing back on some of Hollywood's most prominent names.
Monique responded by arguing that she'd chosen ethics over cash.
"Before the money game, it's called the integrity game," the actress said. "And we've lost the integrity worrying about the money."
"But, Mo," Harvey said, getting louder, "if I crumble, my children crumble, my grandchildren crumble. I cannot, for the sake of my integrity, stand up here and let everybody that's counting on me crumble so I can make a statement."
When the show returned from break, the friends took a more emotional tone, with Harvey saying that he hated what's happened to her in Hollywood. He said he was going to try to arrange for conversations between Mo'Nique and the people she's accused of excluding her in an effort to make things right for her and her career.
"I don't like the fact you've been blackballed," he said, adding that he admitted he should have called her when she was going through those difficult early times. "You can be un-blackballed."
Mo'Nique, who likened their talks to that of a brother and a sister when their parents are not in the room, said she had to "understand how to agree to disagree without being upset."
"I'm not upset with you," she told Harvey. "I love you. I disagree with the way Oprah, Lee and Tyler did it, but I love them."
Harvey soon ended an emotionally charged interview on a hopeful note.
"Let's heal this thing and move forward so the world can see how great we all are," he said.