Netflix, Comedy, and the Wage Gap in Hollywood

Netflix, Comedy, and the Wage Gap in Hollywood

For every dollar a White man makes, a Black woman makes 63 cents.

For every dollar a White man makes, a Black woman makes 63 cents.

Text: Dominique Norman

While the 2018 Golden Globes had attendees and viewers primarily discussing all black ensembles in support of the Time's Up movement, it should have been further pushing discussions of the serious disparity of the wage gap at the intersection of race, age, and gender. For statistical purposes, Labor Department data shows that women earned about 82 cents for every dollar a man made in 2016. According to CNN, “the gender pay gap is much larger among African American and Hispanic female workers”. Does this affect Hollywood starlets the same way it affects blue and white collar workers? Apparently, since many actresses and performers are coming forward over the past few years speaking out on the issue.

In 2015, Jennifer Lawrence penned an essay titled "Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co-Stars?". Just this year, 300 women in who work in film, television, and theatre signed the Time’s Up Letter of Solidarity, names like Gwyneth Paltrow, Meryl Streep, Uma Thurman, Margot Robbie, Kerry Washington, Charlize Theron, Scarlett Johansson, Salma Hayek, Blake Lively, Jennifer Aniston, and literally hundreds more called out the industry that cuts their checks to say that they deserve better.

In the midst of this conversation about representation and pay equity, Netflix has announced an animation project with Tiffany Haddish titled Tuca and Bertie, a ten-episode animated comedy series about two birds in their 30s that share an apartment. Haddish is set to play Tuca, “a cocky-care-free toucan,” alongside Bertie, the “anxious, day-dreaming songbird.” This is following her success from the hit comedy Girls Trip, her 2017 comedy special Tiffany Haddish: She Ready! From the Hood to Hollywood on Showtime, and her New York Times bestseller The Last Black Unicorn, not to mention setting the Black history record of becoming the first Black comedienne to host Saturday Night Live.

The Netflix announcement also follows fellow comedienne and comedy legend Mo’Nique calling for a boycott of Netflix in January, after she felt they "lowballed" her by offering a $500,000 deal for a comedy special. In her call to action, she speaks of other multimillion dollar payouts that clearly show the disparity between her offer and others the streaming service has made in the past. “Amy Schumer was offered $11 million, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, $20 million. Then Amy Schumer went back and renegotiated 2 more million dollars because she said ‘I shouldn’t get what the men are getting, they’re legends, however I should get more,’ and Netflix agreed.”

Mo’Nique recently spoke on this on the radio show The Breakfast Club after being named ‘Donkey of the Day’ by Charlamagne tha God. Charlamagne defended his critique of the comedy legend by referring to the nature of the "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately industry" of Hollywood, while Mo’Nique explained that her extensive résumé should speak—and pay—for itself. Pre-dating Haddish’s Netflix announcement, Mo’Nique expressed her concern for the future of Black female comedians in an interview on Sway in the Morning in January. “If I accepted $500,000, what does Tiffany Haddish have coming? If I accept that, what does the black female comedian have coming?” Haddish is reported to receive $800,000 for the upcoming Netflix series.

This is an issue that has been prevalent in Hollywood, particularly in the wake of #TimesUp. Women such as Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Tracee Ellis Ross have all spoken on the topic, noting that this is an issue intersectional with race, age, and gender. Ross, who stars in Black-ish, reportedly might be cutting back from the show after discovering she makes “significantly less” than her male co-star, Anthony Anderson. At the 67th Annual Emmy Awards, Viola Davis made an all-too-accurate statement during her acceptance speech: "The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there." This was after being awarded best lead actress in a drama, the first African-American woman to win in that category.

During a panel at the recent 2018 Sundance Film Festival, Octavia Spencer revealed how her co-star, Jessica Chastain, fought for her to earn five times her asking salary on an upcoming film. When discussing their upcoming project and pay for the film, Chastain had stated to Spencer, “It’s time that women get paid the same as men!”, and Spencer recalled that she had to point out to Chastain the further disparity between gender and race. "Here's the thing, women of color on that spectrum, we make far less than white women," Spencer noted. "So, if we're gonna have that conversation about pay equity, we gotta bring the women of color to the table."

Media has seemingly always had an issue with representation. It wasn’t until 1965 that a Black woman graced the cover of a magazine, the same year that Black women in the United States received the right to vote via the Voting Rights Act of 1965, forty five years after their white female counterparts. The gap between race and gender has been a clear one for decades. While thanks to increasing representation of performers in the last twenty or so years has provided for more visibility, there is an invisible factor that is still playing a part in the continued disparity in Hollywood, and that is the all too real wage gap. Here’s hoping that performers continue fighting, hard, for equality, not just in representation in media, but in paychecks as well.

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