Chris Rock is Calling Out Hollywood's Gender and Race Pay Gap
He’s not alone.
In 2015, actress Jennifer Lawrence made headlines for criticizing pay inequities that exist for women actresses, noting that she and American Hustle co-star Amy Adams were paid less than the male actors in the 2013 hit film. Lawrence went on to write an essay for Lena Dunham’s Lenny newsletter, where she said she was paid less “than the lucky people with dicks” because of the stigma women face when trying to negotiate higher salaries.
"Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper all fought and succeeded in negotiating powerful deals for themselves. If anything, I’m sure they were commended for being fierce and tactical, while I was busy worrying about coming across as a brat and not getting my fair share," the 25-year-old actress said of her male co-stars.
While Lawrence is right to call out Hollywood’s double standard, her analysis has one major flaw: it ignores the additional barriers and inequities women encounter when they are of color. That’s where Rock comes in.
"Black women have the hardest gig in show business," Rock told the New Yorker. "You hear Jennifer Lawrence complaining about getting paid less because she's a woman – if she was black, she'd really have something to complain about."
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While Lawrence’s skin color certainly doesn’t invalidate her experience with gender discrimination, as Rock insinuates, she does benefit from her white privilege. Like women of color in less lucrative fields, those in Hollywood come up against racism and sexism that is seen, among other areas, in their earnings. And building the confidence to ask for higher pay won’t, as Lawrence suggests, fix the structural problem.
African-American women, along with other women of color, are not even given the same opportunities as their white counterparts to put their talent to use as actresses, directors, writers, editors and cinematographers. But according to a 2014 Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative study at the University of California’s Annenberg School, Latinas have it the worst.
Of the 600 top-grossing films from 2008 to 2014, only 4.9 percent of speaking characters were Latino, despite the group accounting for 16.3 percent of the U.S. population and as much as 25 percent of U.S. moviegoers. Last year wasn’t much better, either. In 2015, Latinos were almost completely absent in films, with leading roles from Jennifer Lopez and Ryan Guzman in The Boy Next Door and supporting roles by Michelle Rodriguez in Furious 7 and Oscar Isaac and Lupita Nyong'o in Star Wars: The Force Awakens in mainstream hits.
The entertainment industry’s inequality goes far beyond gender. As such, when advocating for equal pay for women in Hollywood, it’s crucial that we not forget women of color.