“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” Viola Davis, award winning actress, once said about the treatment of women of color in Hollywood. Davis, among many other women of color in Hollywood, has faced not only prejudice against her for being a woman, but also for being a non-white woman as well. Over the past years as more and more women of color rise to fame in the media, along with their fame comes severe issues such as unfair pair, racism, less opportunities, and overall less recognition for their amazing talent and magnificent hard work. Women of color are often overshadowed by white women in the industry, causing them to work twice as hard to get half as far.
Despite the strides being made within Hollywood that are allowing for more equity and recognition for women of color specifically, there are still several issues that exclusively affect women of color and make it harder for them to be rewarded for their work in film.
It is often found that women in Hollywood already have a hard time in comparison to men when it comes to booking jobs, however the numbers for women of color are even lower. Statistics from 2019 on WomenandHollywood.com showed that while 34% of speaking or named characters for the top 100 grossing films were women, only 17% of leads/co-leads were played by women of color. In addition to this, Hispanic/Latinas were erased from 77 movies, Black women from 33 movies, American Indian/Alaskan Natives from 97 movies, Native Hawaiin/Pacific Islander from 99 movies, Asians from 55 movies, Middle Eastern/North African from 92 movies, and Multiracial/Multiethnic from 45 movies. In comparison to these statistics, white women/girls were only erased from 7 movies. A major part of this issue comes from the fact that white women tend to get casted in roles that are meant to be played by women of color, such
as all the way back in 1961 when Natalie Woods played Maria in an adaptation of “Westside Story” or when Scarlett Johansson played Mokoto Kusanagi in “Ghost in the Shell.” Another example of this is when the original actress who played Lavender Brown in the Harry Potter series, Jennifer Smith, was replaced with white actress Jessie Cave after Brown became a major love-interest in the films and books. By replacing women of color roles with white actresses, society is being taught to silence women of color voices and representation; a goal that is backwards in progress. While the issue of less WOC representation in film does have to do with the fact that there aren’t as many opportunities for women of color to have lead roles, the bigger problem is that when opportunities are present for them, they are constantly given to white women instead.
Women of color also tend to face lower pay and compensation for their work in comparison to their counterparts and co-stars. In fact, lower budget movies of 20 million dollars had rates of 72.3 % for people of color, in comparison to 60% for white directors, and 74.3% for women in comparison to 59.2% for men. Another shocking example of this comes from Monique Hicks, a women of color comedian, who was offered $500,000 for a comedy special with Netflix in comparison to multi-million dollar offers to comedians like Chris Rock, Amy Schumer, and Dave Chapelle. Netflix was unwilling to negotiate their offer with Hicks, and in response she advocated for a boycott against Netflix. When asked why she responded in such drastic measures, Hicks said “for black women in Hollywood the finish line keeps changing and that you’re told to build up your resume and then the money will come. Then you build up your resume and then they’ll say you know what, we see the resume but we’ll get them the next time
and you never meet your next time.” For a woman of color to make it further in Hollywood, she must already have work accounted for, but how can she achieve such accomplishments when she starts the race further behind than the white woman? This is further exemplified by the fact that even the highest earning actresses in Hollywood make less than 30 cents in comparison to their male counterparts according to Forbes, causing the unjust and unequal pay to affect women of color in more drastic and incomparable ways.
While the film world and Hollywood continues to present more opportunities for women of color in Hollywood we must remember that while this change is great, it goes deeper than the surface and it is our duty to remain aware of the injustices faced by women of color. As more and more women of color maintain success, society must acknowledge the disparities and injustices faced by these admirable women in order for us to progress and create meaningful change for our future generations to come.
WOC Filmmakers: Resources for Making Connections — Fourwind Films Famous white actors who played people of color (msn.com)
2019 Statistics | Women and Hollywood
A Look at How Media Writes Women of Color | Bitch Media
Struggles of being a woman of color in Hollywood – North Texas Daily (ntdaily.com) 2021 Hollywood Diversity Report: Audiences showed up for diverse films in theaters, online |