How Well is Hollywood Rewarding Black Actors/Actresses?

Is there a pay gap between black and white actors in Hollywood as alleged by Mo'Nique?
Earlier this year, Mo'Nique complained about the offer Netflix made her, arguing that they undervalued the talent of black female comedians. Mo'Nique may or may not be worth more than what she was offered, but I think she poses an interesting question about pay gaps. Is there a pay gap in Hollywood for black actors or actresses?


Earlier this year, Mo'Nique called for a boycott of Netflix over allegations of unfair pay based on race and gender. While I don't necessarily think that was the issue for Mo'Nique (we'll talk details later in the post), it did make me curious about the salaries of black actors and actresses in Hollywood. So many of the movies I've watched staring black actors or actresses are low budget that it seems impossible that they could be raking in the same amount of dough as their white peers. I want to explore this topic.


Who is Mo'Nique

If you're black and you have a little age on you, you probably already know who Mo'Nique is and what I'm about to say. For those reading that don't know who Mo'Nique is, I thought I'd provide some background. During the late 90s and early 2000s, Mo'Nique was one of the most popular black comedians in Hollywood. Like other black comedy greats (e.g., Steve Harvey), she was given her own show, The Parkers, in 1999. The Parkers ran for 6 seasons![13] Like Martin (starring Martin Lawerence) and The Steve Harvey Show, my family watched The Parkers all the time.

After launching into a new tier of fame with the success of her show, Mo'Nique began landing roles in movies such as Soul Plane, Hair Show, and Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins. Her major break came in 2009 when she landed a role in the award wining movie, Precious. Precious was nominated for 6 Academy Awards, one of which was awarded to Mo'Nique (Best Supporting Actress).[12]

At the height of her popularity, Mo'Nique had been given the honor of hosting the BET Awards 3 times.[4] There is no arguing that she was both successful, good at what she does, and a household name.

The Downfall of Mo'Nique

Since Mo'Nique's Oscar win, however, she's been pretty much ghost. Her IMDB page shows a 5 year gap between the time she won the Oscar and her next role. This gap is the evidence of a bitter feud that erupted with Hollywood moguls Oprah and Lee Daniels after the filming of Precious wrapped up. This feud went on to include Tyler Perry.[15] Let's be honest, if you're a black actor or actress, these are the gatekeepers. Most "black" movies are produced by one of these three people. Whatever went down behind the scenes, became even worse when she became vocal about it (Hollywood is like a secret society), and now, Mo'Nique is basically banned from Hollywood.

Mo'Nique vs. Netflix

Recently, Netflix offered Mo'Nique $500,000 for a comedy special. Considering Mo'Nique hasn't had a role since 2016, isn't in the spotlight anymore, and is blackballed in Hollywood, that's actually pretty high (in my opinion). At the height of her fame, I would definitely agree that this is a low ball offer and with an Oscar under her belt, maybe Mo'Nique is worth more than $500K. However, the underlying factor here isn't race or gender, it's politics. The facts are, right or wrong, Mo'Nique made the wrong people mad and it sabotaged her career.

For comparison, Netflix payed legends Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle $20 million for their specials. Commedian Amy Schumer was only offered $11 million, though it is unknown how much she received after negotiating this value. Although Amy Schumer is the first female to make the highest paid commedian's list, she's nowhere near as legendary as Chris Rock or Dave Chapelle.[1][2][7] It would appear that each person was getting what they deserved, but something still isn't quite right...

We know that sexism exists in our world and we know that racism exists. As black women, we get the burden of bearing both of these issues. Companies and industries can "prove" they aren't racist by showing how well the pay or treat black men (e.g., Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle) and they can "prove" they aren't sexist by doing the same for white women (e.g., Amy Schumer), but black women often get lost and remain on the bottom. So tell me, can you name a comedy special on Netflix starring a black woman? What about Tiffany Haddish or Leslie Jones? What about legends like Adele Givens or Sommore?

Comedian Salaries

Photocredit: Unsplash/Vladimir Solomyani
When I think of comedy, I must admit, I think of black comedians. Black people have been stereotyped and pigeonholed in to class clowns and joksters for so long that I'm not surprised many black comedians (Kevin Hart, Will Smith, etc.) are household names. In 2016, Kevin Hart managed to snag the number one spot for highest paid comedian![9] As I said earlier, Amy Schumer is the first and only female to make that list, which means there are no black women on the list. References [7]-[11] provide insight on comedian salaries and awards.

Nuances and Politics

It wasn't long ago that #OscarsSoWhite was trending. There was not a single black nomination in the mix, but in the true spirit of American racism, the Oscars chose the very black Chris Rock to host. They basically said, "but my best firend is black." All month I've been talking about how black characters (and thus black people) are often pushed to the side or only exist in the background. Well, the Oscars are the culmination of this problem.

The same way we expect our good performance in school or at work to garner great letters of recommendation, which in turn help us to gain optimum employment, awards like the Oscar should help actors and actress gain better roles and bigger paychecks. If you haven't guessed by #OscarsSoWhite, black actors and actresses aren't doing so well on that front. Let's talk about 2 acting award shows I think most people are familiar with: The Academy Awards (Oscars) and The Golden Globes.


The Academy Awards may be the most prestigious award for actors and actresses. This year marks the 89th award ceremony. The first black person to win an award was Hattie McDaniel for her supporting role in Gone With the Wind in 1939—we're not going to belabor the point that she played Mammy. Black wins for lead roles didn't begin until much later. The first black man to win an Academy Award for Best Actor was Sydney Portier in 1963; only 3 other black actors have won since then (Note: 2 are nominated for the 2017 season but the results are not out yet). The first (and only) woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress was Halle Berry in 2001.[24]

While black actors and actresses are often awarded for being in the background (supporting roles), it's obvious that they aren't being recognized for being front and center. It's also notable that the only black female to win Best Actress is also very light skinned. The favoring of fairer skinned women in Hollywood is a symptom of colorism. When will we see talented dark skinned women like Lupita N'yongo and Viola Davis winning this award instead of supporting actress?

Golden Globes

This past January marked the 75th Golden Globe Awards, and it was still experiencing firsts for black wins. In 2018 we shouldn't still be seeing "firsts" for blacks in long standing awards or institutions...

Sydney Portier was the first black man to win a Golden Globe for Best Actor in 1962. Diahann Carroll was the first black woman to win Best Actress (for a TV Series) in 1969. January's award show marked the first time a black man has won Best Actor in a Drama TV Series.[20]

In it's 75 year history, only 3 black men have won the title Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama[18] and only 2 have won Best Actor in a Motion Picture Comedy or Musical.[19] Only two black women have won the title Best Actress in a Motion Picture—Whoopi Goldberg in 1986 (for Drama) and Angela Bassett in 1994 (for Musical or Comedy)—and 5 have won for a TV Series (3 in drama and 2 in Musical or Comedy). Black men have won Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy TV Series 6 times, but no blacks have won Best Director or Best Screenplay.

Just a reminder from the previous post, black people make up about 13% of the population so statistically speaking, we should expect a little less than 10 black winners for each category over 75 years. We really only seen this in categories for supporting roles.[23]


As I said, I was curious how the salaries and net worth of black actors and actresses compared to their white peers. Given what I already knew, I assumed "mainstream" actors like Will Smith and Morgan Freeman would have much higher net-worths than black movie favorites like Morris Chestnut or Sean Patrick Thomas. Nonetheless I still expected there to be a significant gap between their net-worths and popular white actors like Leonardo DeCaprio or Tom Cruise

I found a ton of lists about celebrity wealth (apparently we're all obsessed with how much money they have), and I've linked them in the reference section. Here I'm going to focus on the list provided by Huffington Post of the highest paid actors and actresses. To my surprise, Dewayne Johnson (The Rock) and Vin Diesel are the only black actors or actresses on the list and come in 14 and 15th place. In a list specifically for the wealth of actresses, no black actresses were listed.[3][5][6]


  1. Karen Mizoguchi. "Amy Schumer On Salary Negotiations: I 'Don't Deserve Equal Pay' to Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle". People. August 24, 2017
  2. Elyse Wenshel. "Amy Schumer Asked Netflix To Up Her Pay After Learning Male Comedians’ Salaries". Huffington Post. August 24, 2017
  3. Natalie Robehmed. "Full List: The World's Highest-Paid Actors And Actresses 2017". Forbes. August 22, 2017
  4. "Top 100 Richest Actors". The Richest; visited February 2018
  5. "GOBankingRates. "20 Highest-Paid Actors of Hollywood Like Robert Downey Jr.". Huffington Post. August 24, 2015
  6. GOBankingRates. "10 of the Richest Actresses of All Time. March 31, 2016
  7. "Top 100 Richest Comedians". The Richest; visited February 2018
  8. "The World's Highest-Paid Comedians". Forbes; visited February 2018
  9. Olivia Blair. "Forbes Highest-Paid comedians: Amy Schumer makes history while Kevin Hart finally topples Jerry Seinfeld". Independent. September 27, 2016
  10. "Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album". Wikipedia; visited February 2018
  11. "American Comedy Awards". Wikipedia; visited February 2018
  12. "The 82nd Academy Awards | 2010". Acadamy Awards. March 7, 2010
  13. "The Parkers". IMDB; visited February 2018
  14. "BET Awards '07 Highlights: Third Time's the Charm for Mo'Nique". BET. June 26, 2007
  15. Christina D'Zurilla. "Mo'Nique slams Lee Daniels, Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey in harsh standup riff". LA Times. May 15, 2017
  16. "A History of Emmy - The 1940s". The Emmys; visited February 2018
  17. "Emmy Awards Nominees and Winners". The Emmys; visited February 2018
  18. "Winners & Nominees Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture". Golden Globes; visited February 2018
  19. "Winners & Nominees Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy". Golden Globes; visited February 2018
  20. "Winners & Nominees Best Performance by an Actor In A Television Series - Drama". Golden Globes; visited February 2018
  21. "Winners & Nominees Best Director - Motion Picture". Golden Globes; visited February 2018
  22. "Winners & Nominees Best Screenplay - Motion Picture". Golden Globes; visited February 2018
  23. "List of black Golden Globe Award winners and nominees". Wikipedia; visited February 2018
  24. "List of black Academy Award winners and nominees". Wikipedia; visited February 2018

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