Academy Award-winning actress, comedian, and talk show host Mo’Nique has called for a boycott of Netflix for what she referred to as “gender bias and color bias.” According to her Instagram post, Netflix offered Mo’Nique $500,000 to do a comedy special, while other acts like Amy Schumer commanded $13 million and Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle each received $20 million for their shows.
I don’t have any idea what cash prize Mo’Nique should be able to command for a comedy special—-and frankly, these numbers can be dizzying for those of us who can only hope to earn those sums after years of 40-plus hour work weeks. In the “real world,” we expect experience and qualifications to be closely matched with earning power.
In Hollywood, celebrities who can draw the largest audiences, reap the largest payouts. That seems fair. For comedians, ticket sales for their comedy shows and box office receipts are apparently relevant to this assessment. Mo’Nique continues to perform at improv clubs and other arenas. Her BET talk show was canceled years ago, and she has not had the splashy film career one might have imagined after her Oscar-winning performance in “Precious” in 2009. Of course, the fact that Mo’Nique has not managed to translate her Academy Award into a bigger film career may be illustrative of her major point that there is gender and racial bias.
On the other hand, Schumer starred in the 2015 hit “Trainwreck,” which earned $140 million. Schumer drew lots of heat in her Broadway debut in “Meteor Showers,” had a widely popular Emmy-winning TV show “Inside Amy Schumer,” which aired from 2013 to 2016, and according to Mo’Nique’s video Schumer sold out Madison Square Garden twice. This cursory comparison puts Schumer well ahead of Mo’Nique today—-in an industry that emphasizes what is currently hot.
Critics believe that her call for a Netflix boycott is just sour grapes. To some extent, they may be right, but more importantly her comments highlight an area of American life that is mostly ignored, except for among those who experience its reality.
Consider US employment today. The truth is that other than Asian men, the median hourly earnings of white men are higher than all other racial and ethnic groups, and women. And among women, black and Hispanic women earn $13 and $12 per hour respectively, while their Asian and white counterparts earn $18 and $17 per hour, respectively. White and Asian women earn an average of 82 cents and 87 cents respectively, for every dollar a white man earns. However, while these numbers show an enduring gender wage gap, black and brown women would enjoy substantial pay increases if they joined white and Asian women, given that they earn 65 cents (black women) and 58 cents (Hispanic women) for each dollar earned by a white man.
And lest you think that these gaps can be explained away by education, they persist even for those with college degrees. We see similar disparities in the median hourly earnings for those with at least a bachelor’s degree who are 25 and older: Asian women earn $27, white women $25, black women $23, and Hispanic women $22.
Sure, differences in education and experience are all factors in pay discrepancies—-and, as the payouts of these celebrities highlight, the type of industry is another important one. Many other issues impact wages, some heavily gendered. Regarding salary negotiation, women are less likely to question offered salaries, and tend to be less aggressive negotiators. Yet, in study after study, varying amounts of the wage gap are understood by social scientists to be the result of discrimination.
Mo’Nique probably doesn’t endear herself to people with her “honest” talk about having an open marriage, public feuds with other celebrities, and her profanity-laced rant about being “white-balled” by moguls Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, and Lee Daniels. And by many objective standards, she may not be able to command from Netflix the pay of any of the comedians she referenced in her boycott bid.
Even if Mo’Nique is not the best example herself, however, it’s time that several voices chime in as messengers surrounding the enduring race and gender pay gap.
Janis Prince, Ph.D., is Chair of the Department of Social Sciences and an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Saint Leo University in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.