More than a decade later, the bad blood between Oprah Winfrey and Mo’Nique has not been solved. The relationship turned sour during the promotion of Costly, the film Winfrey produced for which Mo’Nique won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. But while the comedian was eventually able to repair fences with Costly director Lee Daniels, the feud with Winfrey continues — and there’s another crucial reason why Mo’Nique “demands and expects” a public apology from the former talk show host.
In a new profile for The Hollywood ReporterMo’Nique conveys her discomfort with an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show that showed her family after her Oscar win. Under pressure too Costly, Mo’Nique had revealed that she had been sexually abused by her brother. Winfrey informed Mo’Nique beforehand that her “brother had called her and he wanted to come on the show to tell her how parents can watch out for predators,” Mo’Nique shared THR. “She then said, ‘Do you want to be on the show because he wants to apologize to you?’ I said, ‘Oprah, I want no part of it.’
Although Mo’Nique gave “her blessing” to the episode, she was blindsided it also featured her mother, father and another brother downplaying her abuse. claims Mo’Nique Winfrey knew it well that she was not on speaking terms with her mother: “Then I watch the show and I see that my mother is trying to earn a dollar. I know my family.” After it aired, however, she was unable to get in touch with Winfrey. “I reached out to everyone I could to try to get to Oprah. No nothing. It just went dead.”
Mo’Nique ended up confronting Winfrey years later at a party for then-Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong’o. “Oprah Winfrey was sitting to my right. And then I turned to her and said, ‘Now I’m going to talk to you.’ There were some phenomenal black women there. You could have heard a pin drop. I said, ‘Since you didn’t want to call me back for whatever reason, I’m going to say it right here,'” she recalls.
Winfrey apparently claimed that only the abuser had been invited and that the rest had just shown up on the day of the taping, which Mo’Nique “suspected was a lie.” (In any case, Winfrey, a powerful TV producer, certainly had some control over who ends up on camera.) “I’ll see how your mom and dad are on the show, because I didn’t know about that . . ,” Winfrey reportedly told Mo’Nique at the party, adding “something like, ‘If I’ve done anything to offend you, I apologize.'”
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Those kinds of half-assed apologies obviously didn’t cut it for Mo’Nique, who still wants Winfrey to publicly address the situation. Her story also fits in with recent reflection on The Oprah Winfrey Show and its influence on culture. While Winfrey is arguably the most influential television personality in recent history and an inspiration to many, Mo’Nique is not the first to accuse her of exploitation. In 2011, Ryan O’Neal expressed that he felt abandoned by Winfrey during the production of the OWN reality series Ryan & Tatum: The O’Neals; The producer was initially “very encouraging,” but after a positive meeting, they “never saw her again” (per ABC News). Similarly, some critics said Winfrey’s 2014 Lindsay Lohan docuseries took advantage of the star.
Furthermore, what can be called a lack of judgment on the part of the invited guest stars The Oprah Winfrey Show has had an even deeper impact on today’s cultural and political climate. Controversial figures such as Dr. Phil and newer Senator candidate Dr. Oz got their start on Winfrey’s show. For more than 20 seasons, the series had not infrequently “junk science,” provides a platform for concepts like Rhonda Byrne’s The secret or Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vaccine belief.
Any long-running program will inevitably make mistakes or forward ideas that feel dated with the benefit of hindsight. Considering how big The Oprah Winfrey Show still looms large in the cultural lexicon, but it makes sense for the host — who still wields considerable power in his industry and beyond — to reckon with any damage the show may have perpetuated. The wound she inflicted on Mo’Nique is as good a place to start as any.