In the era of #MeToo and Time’s Up, it’s clear that the women of Hollywood are fed up with what’s become the standard practices of gender inequality in the entertainment world. The issue of gender pay disparity bubbled up to the mainstream again after Catt Sadler came out against E! for “not paying their female co-hosts the same as their male co-hosts.” At the Golden Globe Awards earlier this month, Sadler received an outpouring of support from the women of Hollywood, including her famous friends Debra Messing, Eva Longoria and Sarah Jessica Parker. The following week, women everywhere did the same for Michelle Williams when it was discovered Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million to Williams’ paltry $1000 for the All the Money in the World reshoots.
So, one has to ask, where is this support and outrage for Mo’Nique? For Tracee Ellis Ross? For Wanda Sykes? The white women who caused a ruckus for Catt and Michelle are silent now, which comes as no surprise. But why have Black actresses and other Black industry folks been equally reluctant to speak up on behalf of their sisters?
By now, we already know white Hollywood will leave us out of every conversation if it could. But if famous Black women can’t publicly show up for our own just like our white counterparts seem to do every time there’s a gender pay disparity, then we’re in trouble.
On Friday, a day before Women’s March 2018, actress and comedian Mo’Nique took to Instagram to call out Netflix for being offered a deal that was considerably lower than other comedians of her tier. She explicitly called the offer gender and color bias and asked her fans to boycott the streaming video platform:
It’s no secret that Mo’Nique has garnered a “reputation” in Hollywood after very public feuds with Lee Daniels, Tyler Perry and Oprah. During a stand up show last May, Mo’Nique alleged that Lee Daniels told her that she had been blackballed for “not playing the game.” It’s been reported that Mo’Nique asked to be paid to promote Precious during awards season, a request that was not normally asked for with small indie films at the time (though, now it’s fairly standard practice to pay actors to promote their films on their social platforms and beyond). All that drama aside, Mo’Nique does indeed have the resume and awards to back up her frustration with only being offered $500,00 for a standup special. She’s the most prominent Black female comedian and has been for some time. However, for Mo’Nique, there has been no outpouring of support from the women of Hollywood. Not the white women, as was expected, and not even the Black women.
Actress and comedian Wanda Sykes became one of the few bold-faced names to stand with Mo’Nique when she tweeted out that Netflix offered her even less to do a standup special — $250,000, to be exact.
To put it in even greater perspective, Mo’Nique and Sykes, both award-winning actors and comedians, have been offered a small fraction of the $5 million Netflix ponied up for DeRay Davis:
What exactly is this metric Netflix uses to determine how much they're going to pay comedians that got them offering Deray Davis $5MM, Mo'Nique $500k, and Wanda Sykes less than $250k?— Genie Lauren (@MoreAndAgain) January 21, 2018
Shit looks real funny in the light.
Sykes’ tweet certainly had folks thinking twice about shushing Mo’Nique for speaking up, for reasons that can only be chalked up to personality and credibility (two things that never seem to get in the way of a man collecting his coins, it should be noted). But there has still been no tweets of support from the powerful and vocal Black Hollywood set backing them up.
During Mo’Nique’s interview on “Sway in The Morning” she said something really important: “Years ago, Eartha Kitt was calling for equality and they labeled her a communist and they snatched that woman’s livelihood. Please tell me the Black actresses that stood behind her.”
Look, Black actresses and industry people in Hollywood are truly stuck between a rock and a hard place. There is a real threat that falls on vocal Black people for speaking out. We’re seeing it now with Colin Kaepernick. That threat of being blackballed and losing income for speaking out publicly against injustices. We’ve long given leeway to Black actors and actresses who choose not to speak up. But it can’t go on like this. Movements don’t become movements if people are too afraid to stand behind someone, even at the risk of losing their jobs. Change doesn’t happen that way, unfortunately. The Black actresses and industry people who hashtagged #MeToo and said #TimesUp — and even the ones who didn’t — you’ve got to show up for your sisters right now.
Black women in power cannot afford to stay silent about gender pay disparity. Top to bottom, none of us benefit from that. When Shonda Rhimes stood behind Ellen Pompeo to get her money, she made a statement and I bet no one was going to challenge that. But we also need Black women who wield power, Black women who have a stage, to stand behind other Black women who are speaking publicly about unfair pay. We’re so ingrained to not talk about money publicly and fearful of demanding fair pay that we don’t even realize that we’re not making the playing field any easier for other women to get theirs. We have to stand united on this issue, amongst others, or we’re not going to see the needle move for us.
Powerful Black women need to show up for and support those of us with less power and leverage, because it’s become abundantly clear that white women aren’t showing up for us. The chorus of voices that came out to #StandWithCattSadler and shame Marky Mark into turning over his $1.5 million check to the Time’s Up legal defense fund in Michelle Williams’ name are deafeningly silent when it comes to Mo’Nique. Or Tracee. Or Wanda.
This particular conversation is bigger than Netflix. It’s even bigger than Hollywood. Black women of all industries have had to swallow their tongues and accept being paid less than their white counterparts. National Women’s Law Center put out the numbers in July 2017: “Black women experience a wage gap at every education level — even when they have earned graduate degrees. Whether they work in low wage or high wage occupations, Black women are typically paid less than white, non-Hispanic men in the same occupations. Black women experience a wage gap across occupations.” These are cold hard facts that Black women are paid less.
Enough is enough. These movements will not survive if it’s only white women benefiting from these conversations. Stop sitting in the shadows and step up to the stage. Time’s Up.
(Photo from left: Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic, Robin Marchant/Getty Images, Greg Doherty/Getty Images)