Women of Color Pay Gap in Hollywood

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Women of Color - Pay Gap in Hollywood

In short, while it is difficult to get exact numbers for actresses of color, our research suggests that there is a gender pay gap for women of color. Presented reasons for lower pay include lack of diversity in films causing roles for women of color to be fewer, as well as fear of replacement during pay negotiations. Below you will find our deep dive into the pay gap amongst women of color.

Racial Pay Gap

For the purposes of this writing, "women of color" is considered to be of non Caucasian descent (Black, Indian, Asian, Hispanic, etc.). In the commonly referenced Forbes list of the 10 highest paid actresses in 2017, there were no women of color on the list. This suggests that there was a pay gap for women of color in 2017. Comparatively, while there were two women of color to make the list in 2016, Fan Bingbing and Deepika Padukone, they were numbers 5 and 10, $17 million and $10 million, respectively, on the list.

The 2017 Forbes list does not include any women of color despite findings of an increase in the number of women of color in the 100 top grossing films. According to Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film in San Diego, California, females accounted for 37% of major characters last year. Additionally, Dr. Lauzen found that female characters of color percentages had also increased in 2017. The percentage of Black females increased from 14% in 2016 to 16% in 2017. The percentage of Latinas more than doubled from 3% in 2016 to 7% in 2017, and the percentage of Asian females increased from 6% in 2016 to 7% in 2017."

Suggested factors

Lower pay amongst women of color has been suggested to be the result of several factors. Lack of diversity in films has caused roles for women of color to be lacking. Commenting on this, a Forbes editor replied, "The lack of diversity on the list comes down to roles: Only 28.3% of all speaking roles across formats go to characters from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, according to a 2016 study." Her reasoning for this statement was that there were just not enough high-paying roles and there were fewer character roles for
women of color. Furthermore, the fear of being replaced has caused some to not push the envelope so to speak during pay negotiations.

Priyanka Chopra had much to say during a noteworthy interview about gender discrimination about what she faced in Hollywood despite having starred in more than 50 Bollywood films. She indicated having been told that female actors were just backgrounds to male actors and could be replaced at any time. In 2017, she told Glamour, "I’m still used to being paid — like most actresses around the world — a lot less than the boys."

Possible solutions

Some solutions are possible to tighten the pay gap between Caucasian actresses and actresses of color. Based on the popularity of the mostly black cast of the new Black Panther movie, it is suggested that more films like this one would create higher paying roles for women of color. Furthermore, if more women actresses worked together to negotiate higher pay for each other to include women of color, this should lessen the gap as well. This was the case with actresses Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain.


There is evidence of a pay gap between women of color and Caucasians when it comes to actresses. While the concrete numbers for comparison are difficult to obtain; interviews, general studies, and the commonly used Forbes list seem to point towards race disparity in pay.