Pay Gap or Fame Gap?

The supposed pay gap in entertainment is farcical

28 March 2018

A couple of months ago, I came across a news story so mind-numbingly stupid that it actually gave me a headache. The story further solidified my suspicion that the fight for equal everything was going too far, even for the people who originally supported it. I’m talking about when a mildly famous comedian asked people to boycott Netflix because the streaming service wouldn’t pay her as much as Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock, or Amy Schumer, whose contracts were worth millions compared to her $500,000.

The comedian who demanded her pay be equal to those superstars?: Mo’Nique.

Yeah…I didn’t know who she was either.

The pay gap itself, as the public currently knows it, is built on bad data. That’s what you get when you dispel all other variables and only focus on one outcome. The ‘79 cents’ myth doesn’t take into account the multitude of differences between men and women and certainly doesn’t recognise experience, skill, or character as reasons why someone might get paid more. All of this is amplified in the entertainment industry, where the added wrinkle of star power ultimately dictates the pay of actors and comedians.

You know who Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock, and Amy Schumer are. They’ve each been able to sell out sports arenas.

Mo’Nique has 150,000 Twitter followers. Chris Rock has over 5 million and Amy Schumer has over 4 million. Dave Chapelle has about 550,000 Twitter followers…on a defunct account he deemed bogus in 2012. You may say it’s superficial to judge popularity based on followers, but this is fame we’re talking about.

Fame is what cultivates your audience, what makes you a sure bet in the eyes of companies who just want to make money. You’re only worth as much as someone is willing to pay for you, and in show business, that includes your ability to sell seats and get views.

Find me two comedians with the same amount of followers, the same experience, the same track record, and the exact same contract negotiation, and maybe you can make a case for pay disparity. Until then, race and gender are some of the least valid reasons for why someone else in the industry got paid more than you. It’s an especially egregious stretch when you choose to compare yourself to two black men and a woman.

It isn’t just about fame either. It’s about companies having the freedom to do business with whomever they please and for whatever price is agreed upon. I certainly wouldn’t want to work with a person who after not getting what they wanted in a private negotiation, led a public boycott against my business.

This particular story is steeped in greed. Nevermind her $560,000 in unpaid taxes. It involves using the equal pay movement to coerce a company into paying more than they’re willing to. From an optics perspective, who’s going to feel sorry for a wealthy person demanding she gets as much as her incredibly wealthy peers? I’m not.

Then there are those who will argue about the symbolism of it all.

‘By not taking Mo’Nique’s boycott seriously, we’re ignoring all Black women who are paid less in America. Her disenfranchisement is ours because most working Black women have, or will experience, the same treatment when it comes to pay inequality,’ states one article in Essence Magazine.

All political movements need to stop generalising and removing nuance from every case that correlates with their issue. Mo’Nique’s boycott is built on terrible foundations and principles, that her ‘small’ payday is the result of gender and racial bias when it’s clearly not. Her case for discrimination is weak, and it’ll weaken yours too if you choose to champion it.

I would hope that black women don’t support Mo’Nique in the same way I would hope that ‘MeToo’ doesn’t support a false rape accuser. Such poor judgement tends to diminish the entire movement.

Show business is a complicated industry with lots of backdoor deals, negotiations, and auditions. Above all else, those with money and fame are able to leverage those things to get more of both. If you want the former, you’re going to need the latter. That’s true whether you’re black, white, a woman, or a man.

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