By Ryan Velez
Many African-Americans have had to deal with making less for the same jobs as their white counterparts, but a series of salary leaks have revealed that even our celebrities are not exempt to this issue. BET.com has shown some of the stars of the most popular prime-time shows are still making smaller salaries than white stars on shows without these levels of success.
Perhaps the most shocking thing is that no amount of accolades or ratings seem to reverse this trend. Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder) and Kerry Washington (Scandal) were reported by Variety to make $250,000 per episode, far less than Grey’s Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo, who brings in $400,000 per episode. “That Davis, in particular, isn’t commanding more is frankly perplexing — she won the Best Actress Emmy in 2015 and was nominated again in September, and she splits her time between television and a successful movie career (including the recent summer hit Suicide Squad),” Variety writes.
Surprise successes aren’t enough to help Black stars earn equal pay, either. Few people could have predicted that Empire would be the sensation that it was, which also injected new life into the already established careers of Taraji P. Henson and Terrance Howard. They were said to earn $175,000 an episode, less than stars of dramas that don’t have half the ratings that Empire has earned. Note that Empire’s newcomers, like their onscreen sons Trai Byers, Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Y. Gray, are paid just $20,000 per episode.
No genre is immune to this issue, including comedies. When turning the lens to ABC’s comedies, Blackish star Anthony Anderson gets $100,000 an episode, while Tracee Ellis Ross’s pay is $80,000. Compare this to the core Modern Family cast, The Middle ’s Patricia Heaton and Last Man Standing’s Tim Allen, who all earn $250,000 an episode. Modern Family is a well-established show, but all three of these shows don’t match Blackish’s ratings or critical/awards acclaim.
If being successful, bringing in viewers, or getting critical acclaim isn’t enough to get equal pay for the Black stars of TV, what else is there to do? Is it a matter of getting more Black people behind the camera, or perhaps in the boardroom where they can work for equal salaries in this regard? Sadly, this is a question that has yet to be answered.