An Uncomfortable Truth About Netflix Comedy Specials
Amy Schumer asked for more money, but is the almighty dollar really what she or Netflix should’ve been going for in the sake of equal pay progress?
Netflix has never released an original comedy special by a black woman ever since they started booking them in 2012. Only four specials by women of color have been produced in the five years since Netflix started producing original comedy specials: Cristela Alonzo, Ali Wong, Anjelah Johnson, and Sofia Niño de Rivera. To be clear, that is zero black women and just four women of color out of 91 specials produced so far.
As @Okayplayer reported earlier this week, Amy Schumer asked for more money for her Netflix comedy special after learning that veterans Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle were offered about $9 million more than her for their comedy specials—$20 million versus her $11 million.
While several media outlets have posited this as a kind of “rah rah girl power” moment for the comedienne, it is difficult for me to look at this issue without breaking down how much worse the pay and opportunity gap is for women of color in Hollywood.
Consider this: Black Women’s Equal Pay Day was started to raise awareness of the fact that black women have to work a full 18 months to earn what white men make in a year. Yvette Nicole Brown, of NBC’s Community and the upcoming comedy The Mayor, recently shared a story where she found out she was making little more than a white male guest star on a show where she was a series regular.
Consider this: Tiffany Haddish, recently released a comedy special on Showtime, SheReady! From the Hood to Hollywood! She has been grinding in the comedy world for years and starred in The Real Husbands of Hollywood and the recently canceled The Carmichael Show before being cast in the deliriously raunchy and hilarious movie of the summer, Girls Trip.
By the way, Girls Trip became the first comedy in 2017 to earn more than $100 million, something Baywatch and Rough Night failed to do.
Given her talent and the successful movies and TV shows she has played a huge part in, I’m curious to know what she earned for her Showtime special and if Netflix has any plans on offering her a comedy deal. I would hope that whatever she earned [from Showtime] was close to the $11 million, Amy Schumer was initially offered by Netflix.
Meanwhile, Jerry Seinfield reportedly inked a $100 million deal for his Netflix comedy special. If anything, one could argue that Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle still didn’t get what they were truly worth, given everything that these multi-hyphenate talents have accomplished during their decades-long careers. (Black people have to fly to get to something white people can walk to.)
Equal pay remains a serious issue in Hollywood, and really, every industry. It is past time that we be more expansive in our thinking. Women of color and especially black women, have an even harder path to navigate in Hollywood than the Amy Schumers of the world. Despite their proven talent and their hard work, they are rarely given the opportunity to develop Netflix specials or movie deals at all—let alone have the leverage and privilege to negotiate more money. Now I won’t ever fault someone for trying to get their coins, but, to quote the poet laureate Yasiin Bey (FKA Mos Def), “Your grind and my grind ain’t the same, dog.”
Danielle A. Scruggs is a Chicago-based photographer and writer who runs the website Black Women Directors and is also the Director of Photography at the Chicago Reader, an award-winning alt-weekly newspaper. Follow her on Twitter at @dascruggs and view her site at daniellescruggs.com.