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Variety Report Shows Huge Discrepancy In Pay Between White TV Stars and Their Colleagues of Color In Addition to Gender Gap


We talk a lot around here about the gender wage gap in Hollywood, and how women not only get fewer opportunities, but are paid less when they do. Well, Variety collected some data on the the salaries our biggest TV stars get per episode, and it’s glaringly obvious that, despite how well a show is doing or how much critical acclaim a performer has, white TV stars make more than non-white TV stars. By, like, a lot.

Variety consulted with actors, executives, attorneys, agents, managers, and other reps to put together an accurate picture of who’s making what. They divided up the highest earners in Comedy, Drama, and Reality.

In the Comedy category, of the thirty-three highest earners on television, only seven are people of color (on the plus side, five of those seven are women!). Of those, doing the best in fourth place is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who commands $400,000 an episode on his HBO show, Ballers. It makes sense that he’d make that much, since he’s also a big box-office draw in film, and that number seems great…until you see that the three leads of CBS’ The Big Bang Theory — Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, and Johnny Galecki — each pull in $1 million per episode. So even though Johnson, who is half black and half Samoan, shows up immediately after them on the list, there’s a $600,000 difference between them, and that’s with his box office cred.

Modern Family‘s Sofia Vergara is the highest-paid woman of color on the Comedy list, and she pulls in $250,000 per episode, making the same amount as the rest of her adult co-stars (except for Ed O’Neill, who makes more than all of them, because he was the biggest star at the start of the show). Meanwhile, there are three white dudes between her and The Mindy Project‘s Mindy Kaling, who makes $140,000 per episode.

The biggest surprises, however, are the names at the bottom of the comedy list, where sit some of comedy’s most critically-acclaimed and award-winning performances. Gina Rodriguez, Golden Globe winner for Jane the Virgin, is at the bottom of the list, making $60,000/episode. Just above her at $80,000/episode is Tracee Ellis Ross of black-ish.

As reported by Newsweek, this is surprising, because:

[Anthony] Anderson gets $100,000 an episode, while Ross’ pay is $80,000; comparatively, the core ModFam cast, The Middle’s Patricia Heaton and [Last Man] Standing ’s Tim Allen all earn $250,000 an episode. Sure, Tim Allen was great in Home Improvement in the 1990s, but Standing is not nearly as beloved as black-ish by critics, nor does it match it in the ratings. (black-ish got a 2.0 rating in adults 18-49 on September 21, Standing did 1.1 two days later.)

Not only that, but Ross is practically Hollywood royalty, being Diana Ross’ daughter in addition to being a wonderful and funny comedic actress who gets nominated for Emmys. How she’s making that much less than Anderson, let alone that much less than so many of the other people on this list is beyond me.


On the drama side, the most shocking numbers come from the leads of Empire and the Shondaland shows How to Get Away With Murder and Scandal, shows with black leads that are among the most popular shows right now.

Viola Davis and Kerry Washington each make $250,000 an episode, which is particularly perplexing in Davis’ case, since she’s won an Emmy (and been nominated for another), and just came off of doing Suicide Squad. Meanwhile, Grey’s Anatomy lead Ellen Pompeo commands $400,000, and she’s never even been nominated for an Emmy.

Empire is currently the highest-rated scripted drama on television, yet its two black leads — Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson (Oscar nominees, both!)  each make $175,000 (at least they are paid the same! Because we all know that Lucious would be nothing without Cookie!). You know who’s making the most money on the drama side right now? Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel for their Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix, for which they’re each getting paid $750,000 for each of the four 90-minute episodes.

Now, I’m thrilled that there are two women at the top of the drama list right now, and I love me some Gilmore Girls. But as beloved as Gilmore Girls was back in the day, and as much as fans are looking forward to going back to Stars Hollow, nostalgia shouldn’t trump how successful Empire is.

In its coverage, Newsweek makes a great point about Hollywood doing a lot of talking about its “diversity issue” as far as casting, but not when it comes to pay. They remind us that, “In 2014, it was revealed that Jennifer Lawrence was paid way less than her male co-stars for American Hustle, courtesy of the Sony hack, and that drew worldwide headlines. A year later, she wrote about the incident, and that gained worldwide headlines, too. What didn’t get as many column inches is Chris Rock saying that, had Lawrence been black, she would have been paid even less. Variety’s reporting supports that claim.”

Obviously, all these TV stars make way more money than you or me, so it’s easy to dismiss concern about pay as the whining of the privileged. However, it’s not about the amounts themselves. It’s about the discrepancies. While it gave me some hope that so many of these shows pay their male and female stars equally, that only made me angrier at the shows that don’t. And it’s inexcusable that there are so few people of color on these lists to begin with, and those that are there get paid significantly less than white peers that are not only at their level, but sometimes below their level.

Step up, Hollywood!


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Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.