Black women in the entertainment industry like Angela Bassett, Oprah Winfrey, Mo’Nique, Gabrielle Union and others have long provided years of excellence to this world, both in front of and behind the camera. Their gifts of storytelling, acting, directing, producing, singing, rapping, and more, constantly uplift and inspire generations of viewers. Yet despite their magnificent efforts that mirror, and sometimes surpass, that of their male counterparts, there has been a historic wage gap.
The conversation surrounding the difference in pay between Black actors in Hollywood has been a long and sometimes exhausting journey. This year’s Emmy Awards proved that there is still a ways to go in the fight for equality, inclusion, diversity, and respect.
Over the course of the over 3-hour long ceremony, viewers would swiftly notice that people of color were being overlooked in almost every category. An article by The Hollywood Reporter showed that Black actors made up 37.5% of this year’s nominations. The number included members of the Afro-Latina community.
While the percentage made a slightly steady incline in comparison to the 2020 Emmy nominations, the outcome at the ceremony proved there was work still to be done. Actresses such as Tracee Ellis Ross, MJ Rodriguez, Rosie Perez, Uzo Aduba, and Jurnee Smollett were shut out of wins for their acclaimed roles.
Since 2016, Black-ish actor Tracee Ellis Ross has been nominated for a total of 6 Emmys, including twice at the previous ceremony. Unfortunately, she would walk away empty-handed yet again. Actress MJ Rodriguez was on hand to celebrate her historic nomination as the first transgender woman named in a lead acting role at the Emmys. Many predicted Rodriguez to walk away with the trophy for her role of Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista, as the series Pose concluded its final season.
The massive oversight towards Black actresses and actors not receiving the respect they deserve has also gone hand-in-hand with the conversation surrounding the wage discrimination that people of color face. The issue worsens when Black women bring to light the discrepancies they face in Hollywood. During a conversation with Tina Brown for her “Woman In The World” event, actress Viola Davis spoke on her struggles with the wage gap in Hollywood. Viola Davis shared with Brown and the audience that even though she one award short of becoming an “EGOT” (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards… Davis has yet to receive a Grammy), and although she has achieved massive success in her career, she gets much less than her white counterparts.
She rightfully compares her career to other high-profile actresses such as Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Sigourney Weaver, noting the similarities in their paths. “And yet I am nowhere near them. Not as far as money, not as far as job opportunities,” she states. “Nowhere close to it.” Davis mentioned, “People say, ‘You’re a Black Meryl Streep. You are, and we love you! We love you! There is no one like you!’ OK, then if there is no one like me, if you think I’m that, you pay me what I’m worth. You give me what I’m worth!”
Oftentimes, when people speak up about the truths that occur behind the scenes in Hollywood, those in power do what it takes to have them blackballed. Actress Mo’Nique made those claims that she had been blackballed following her comments about Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, and Lee Daniels, all producers on the Oscar-winning film Precious.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Mo’Nique recalled that after her Oscar win, the “life-changing” career moments that everyone expects to follow, did not. ” It should come with more respect, more choices, and more money,” she said. “It should, and it normally does.” She then went on to reveal that Lee Daniels told her she had been blackballed for her refusal to “play the game.”
Recently, Gabrielle Union gave her take on the obvious pay discrepancies with Black actresses in Hollywood. While on the podcast 9 to 5ish with theSkimm, Union related the wage gap as “shameful” and touched on those executives’ pattern of taking advantage of Black actresses. “They just hope you don’t know your worth,” she said.
Some strides have been made, however, as it was recently reported that legendary actress Angela Bassett could now be one of the highest-paid actors on television. Thanks to a recent pay raise from Fox, Deadline reports that her salary is now over $450,000 per episode. This amount is said to make Angela Bassett the highest-paid women of color, and overall highest-paid actor on network television. Bassett’s new salary includes the actresses work as an actress, but also executive producer of both shows, 9-1-1 and 9-1-1: Lone Star. So what exactly does Angela Bassett’s new salary mean for the pay gap women of color face in Hollywood? Hopefully, more are provided more opportunities on and off the screen. The more women of color behind the scenes, the more opportunities will become available to create stories that include more representation.