Why black actors earn less than white actors? By now, you should know the answer to this question.  This is because black actors ask for less than white actors.  That simple. And not really interesting.  What’s key to understand are the reasons behind black actors asking for less. Let me throw a few ideas on the board and see what sticks with you:

  • Black actors draw less of an audience – WRONG!!! Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard, stars of the highest-rated drama on television, Fox’s Empire, are earning considerably less than their white peers. Like pennies on the dollar.
  • Black actors have less name recognition – WRONG!!! Viola Davis, Best Actress Emmy in 2015, make $250K per episode while Ellen Pompeo, if you know who that is, is making $400K an episode.

Here is what Jennifer Lawrence, the world best paid actress, had to say when she discovered she is earning less than $25M of the best-paid actor:”I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early,” I know she is not black, but her example is representative of what I believe black actors face.  The question is why she asked for less, or why she gave up too early.  It is well documented that women negotiating for higher pay worry about seeming  “difficult” or “spoiled.” Lawrence says her desire to “be liked” prevented her from arguing her profit cut, “until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being “difficult” or “spoiled.”

Let’s come back to the core question. Why do Blacks ask for less? In my opinion, it is all about how big the objective.  When I was 18, success as a professional was about earning $3,000 per month, own a VW Golf gti, and one day being a manager.  That was my dream. However, my dream, was not even acceptable as a first job for many in my college in the wealthiest neighborhood of Paris.  Where did this disconnect come from? I was raised by a single mom, who worked night time as a nurse. No need to say that although we were doing ok, my mom did not have much of disposable income at the end of the month.  In that context, $3,000 per month is a LOT of money. Now, look at the flip side.  In the wealthiest neighborhood of Paris, my classmates would be the sons and daughters of commodity traders, lawyers, influential businessmen. Their parents could earn

Where did this disconnect come from? I was raised by a single mom, who worked night time as a nurse. No need to say that although we were doing ok, my mom did not have much of disposable income.  In that context, $3,000 per month is a LOT of money. Now, look at the flip side.  In the wealthiest neighborhood of Paris, my classmates would be the sons and daughters of commodity traders, lawyers, influential businessmen. Their parents could earn up $8,000 WITHOUT working!!! Yes, you read that right. High earners in France can receive an unemployment indemnity as high as $8,000.  In that context, $3,000 is not that high. Everything is relative.

I do not know the story of all these actors. But statistically, Blacks have accumulated less wealth than whites families. So it is likely that what is a lot for people of color, is less for whites.

How to overcome? Prepare and get information from people in the know.  Jennifer Lawrence should have known that the best-paid actor took 7% of movie profit before she negotiated 5% of the movie profit.  Terrence Howard should have known that max pay for tv series is $1M per episode, that even actors in average tv series can earn $400K per episode before he negotiated $100K per episode. Nowadays, it is not an excuse to pretend not knowing.  Information is out there. You must figure it out.  If you are not sure, negotiate a short-term contract until you can figure it out.  Include a clause that allows you to renegotiate if say you win an award, or your ratings are sky high. And for all of you who think that they have nothing to complain about when you make $100K per episode, you are missing the point.  It is about getting what you deserve. And why get less of your less successful peers?