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It is Shocking How Much Less Taraji P Henson, Viola Davis and Kerry Washington are Paid than White TV Stars

Avatar • Oct 7, 2016

Yesterday Variety released a salary list for TV’s top stars, and while some things were expected (aka the Big Bang Theory cast makes bank) others were pretty shocking. Namely that some of TV’s top black stars make way WAY less than their white counterparts — despite their shows bringing in top ratings, despite winning Emmys for their performances, and despite (in the case of Taraji P Henson and Viola Davis) being Oscar-nominated actresses.

Empire is currently the highest-rated scripted network drama right now, raking in more than 15 million viewers in its first two seasons. Henson has been nominated for an Emmy and won a Golden Globe for her role as Cookie Lyons. She earns $175,000 an episode.

Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder are both top ratings performers for ABC, and in 2015 Viola Davis became the first black woman to win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Davis and Washington are paid $250,000 per episode.

To put this in perspective, Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel are raking in $750,000 an episode for Netflix’s Gilmore Girls revival, Ellen Pompeo is getting $400,000 an episode for Grey’s Anatomy and Clair Danes is getting $450,000 an episode for Homeland — which brings in about a third of the audience of Scandal and HTGAWM.

It could be argued, for Graham and Bledel, that Netflix is banking on the revival of their iconic show to be a hit, and for Pompeo that Grey’s Anatomy has been a ratings juggernaut for 13 seasons — and that’s fine. But shouldn’t Henson, Davis and Washington be similarly rewarded for helming shows that have raked in millions of viewers and won numerous nominations and awards? Shouldn’t Davis’ and Henson’s Oscar nominations count for something?

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The comedy side is even more surprising. Despite starring in a Peabody award-winning show that pulls in strong ratings, Tracee Ellis Ross earns just $80,000 an episode for Blackish and is second to last on Variety’s list, only above Gina Rodriguez who earns a similarly shocking $60,000 an episode for the hit CW show Jane the Virgin. Ross is a veteran comedy actress who was recently nominated for an Emmy — the first black woman in 30 years — for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy. And yet veteran comedy actress Julie Louis Dreyfus is earning $250,000 an episode — more than triple Ross — for Veep, a show that brings in less than a third of Blackish’s viewers. Mindy Kaling earns $140,000 an episode for The Mindy Project, a show that was canceled by Fox due to low ratings and had to be revived on Hulu.

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The argument here is not that white actresses deserve less money for their performances, but that black actresses deserve more. Davis, Washington, Henson and Ross have all labored in film and TV for more than two decades each, an incredible feat in an industry that is notoriously unkind to women of color. They lead hit shows that have brought acclaim to their respective networks. They deserve more than recognition and words of praise, they deserve financial reward. 

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SweetT
SweetT
4 years ago

Hopefully their agents or lawyers or whomever negotiates their contracts will take this information to the table and say “Look what we’ve done for your ratings. You need to run us our money.” B/c this some B.S.

Raquel
Raquel
4 years ago

The difference is shocking indeed…

HoneyRose
HoneyRose
4 years ago

Kerry and Viola are making more than Ellen Pompeo made when her show was in its 6th season. On the flip side, Claire Danes has only been doing Homeland for 3 seasons and is getting paid over twice what Taraji is making. (Also, the new Gilmore Girls is a four-episode miniseries, which is why the pay is so high.) But the comedy disparities seem ridiculous. I’m always baffled by the popularity of the Big Bang Theory. JLD’s salary is likely due to her star power from SNL and Seinfeld and the rest. It’s like that Kaling’s salary is higher than Ross’s… Read more »

bosslaydee
bosslaydee
4 years ago
Reply to  HoneyRose

im confused why SJP is making so much when her show just started. but i agree with everything else.

HoneyRose
HoneyRose
4 years ago

Gilmore Girls only won one Emmy, but it was hugely popular and was one of the WB’s most watched shows. Networks care way more about viewership (and advertising dollars) than awards. That said, Bledel and Graham are getting paid so much because the new series is actually a four episode miniseries. They’ll get paid less for the season than Washington or Davis will get for theirs.

MyFluffyPuffs
4 years ago

Inequality all the way around! How many awards have Gilmore Girls racked in compared to Scandal, Empire or HTGWM?

La-Keisha
La-Keisha
4 years ago

Okay first off, Netflix and cable shows should not even be in this comparison. Netflix pays what they want and it’s not about race. It’s about having less expenses than a tv show. Premium cable shows usually make more than tv shows, so that’s not surprising. Now tv shows like Greys Anatomy and Law and Order have been on for years, so of course the stars can negotiate more money. So when Empire, Blackish, Scandal, and how to get away with murder is on for more years I will expect them to negotiate for more money. You don’t just come… Read more »

Nike
4 years ago

Was about to advise caution after seeing that the first list was topped by cable shows and these black actors are on network shows–and then I saw the second list that shows networks don’t have a problem paying up for certain people. You have GOT to be kidding me. Higher ratings, Oscar cred, but still lower pay? And many will continue to insist that racism is over. Sigh.

Mona
Mona
4 years ago

Yes they should, but my guess is Davis is still in her first contract for the show. The emmy win gives her more bargaining power when she renews the contract. Same with Hinson and Ross. A lot of the white actresses are on extended contracts which explains the big paychecks. Washington should be getting paid more since that show has been on the longest. I doubt she is still on her first contract so she should be getting more than Davis. With the Emmy win though Davis should be able to renegotiate a larger paycheck than Washington. Also the fact… Read more »

Justice S
Justice S
4 years ago

This is some class A bs.Our black shows have some of the best ratings and actors but they get paid pennies to bust their butts in an industry that love black culture but hates black people.

lis
lis
4 years ago

Well, these ladies need to make some media noise and hire some good lawyers.…nobody is going to give out of the kindness of their hearts. Please.

Saran
Saran
4 years ago

I rather think it’s a matter some companies pay better than other netflix, hbo pay better than fox

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