When Mo’Nique released her Jan. 19 Instagram video appealing to her supporters to boycott Netflix, I wonder if she ever considered how many black folks would in no uncertain terms side with Netflix and invite her to have several seats.
I’m not mad at Mo’Nique for refusing to accept less than she believes she is worth, or for making the case for her worth. (Claiming the title of “most decorated comedian alive” was a stretch but hey, hyperbole…) I’m not mad at her for drawing attention to the enormous disparity between the amount she states Netflix offered her versus the black male and white female comics she named (although she undercut her own argument of racial and gender pay disparity by doing so).
I just think a boycott was the wrong tactic for the situation. It might have seemed like a good idea considering the small but vocal NFL boycott on Colin Kaepernick’s behalf and the #TimesUp campaign that is taking action on the income disparity between numerous female and male actors.
As a people, we’ve had a love affair with boycotts ever since the blacks of Montgomery, Alabama, brought the segregated city bus line to its knees. After a Florida jury set Trayvon’s killer free, we furiously declared a boycott on the entire state of Florida. #Blackout even declared a boycott on holiday spending. Those actions suffered the same failure as Mo’s appeal because although they had a powerful motivation, they missed some key points about boycotting as a tactic for social change. I don’t expect Mo’Nique to actually read this blog; her situation is just an example for us to learn from when we get that itch to boycott. Here are a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to boycotting.
- Do call for a boycott if many people are affected. Rosa Parks was far from the only person in Montgomery to be hurt by segregated buses. People got behind it because they had personally felt the same pain and now had an opportunity to make it stop. The NFL boycott was about one person, Colin Kaepernick, but it was a show of solidarity with him for being punished after taking a stand on an issue that does affect many.
- Don’t call a boycott on your own behalf or ask people to give up something when only you stand to gain. Michelle Williams did not tell the world that Mark Wahlberg made 10 times her salary and he needs to make it right; Kaep did not get on TV and tell people to stop watching the games. Mo’Nique has tried to frame her boycott in terms of helping less established comediennes, but it might have been more believable if she had reached out to them first or formed a coalition of black women comics to call for justice from Netflix. The public would give up access to so many entertainment options including those produced by black people from all over the world to gain what, exactly?
- Do pick a “face” for your boycott that will be well received by the people who you want to support your boycott. Even though the story we got in school was one of one woman’s spontaneous heroism, the Montgomery bus boycott was a coordinated strategy developed by many trained community organizers. Rosa Parks was a seasoned NAACP officer who was chosen to be the face of the boycott because her class, appearance and community status would draw more supporters than a poorer, browner woman. It’s ugly, but people are fickle that way. The issue of fair pay has taken a backseat (no pun intended) to Mo’s tarnished image (unfairly or not) as a complainer with a lame husband-manager and not enough recent star-power to justify her demands.
- Do boycott in order to get a specific request granted (after gentler tactics haven’t worked). End bus segregation. Give Kaep a job. Don’t run an insensitive ad campaign. Stop doing business with apartheid South Africa. All of these are specific requests. What is Mo’s request? More money? How much more? Just for her? For the other comediennes she named? It’s hard to get on board with a cause when you don’t know where it’s going.
- Do target a specific entity that has power to grant the request (but hasn’t done so when you asked nicely). Unlike the Florida-wide or holiday spending boycotts, Mo’Nique is actually on point with this one. Retailers do not have power to change police policy. There is such a thing as a secondary target, but I’m not sure that law enforcement agencies would be motivated by declining retail sales either. Netflix, on the other hand, is a specific entity with power to grant her request, but again, we don’t know what it was. Which leads to…
- Don’t call for a boycott with no end in sight. When the Montgomery bus line agreed to end segregation, all those black folks who stopped dropping coins in the fare box got back on the bus. Clear demands would let supporters – and Netflix – know when the relationship could resume again. I’m in agreement with those who believe we should leave Netflix permanently, or at least spend a lot more of our viewing time watching streaming services such as kweliTV and Congo TV Network that are built by and cater to black folks. As I mentioned in my Buy Black Friday post, we need to be at least as determined to build our own institutions as we are to demand inclusion in the mainstream. But a boycott’s not a boycott without the lure of regained income. So last but not least…
- Do attract enough influential supporters that the target feels sufficient pressure to grant the request they originally denied. The Montgomery bus line suffered because 75% of its riders were African American. Similarly, Mo’Nique would need a significant amount of paying Netflix subscribers to get on board with her and start canceling their subscriptions. Not people who are watching on somebody else’s subscription. Not people who support the sista but don’t watch Netflix anyway. Otherwise, there’s no carrot, there’s no stick, and there’s no reason for Netflix – or any other boycott target – to care about all that fussing. It just ends up being more publicity for them.
I think if Mo’Nique had raised the pay issue without attaching it to a boycott, she may have gained more sympathy with the public, more support from fellow comics, and more leverage for her negotiations. On the other hand, she’s not totally on her own – Salon, HuffPost and Blavity have published op-eds in support of her cause recently, and some everyday people continue to side with her in social media debates. Ether way, she’s put her name more prominently in the public again. I sincerely hope she flips that extra limelight in her favor.