Forbes Highest Paid TV Stars List Lacks Diversity & This Story Just Keeps Repeating Itself
It's that good old Forbes list time of year and, on Wednesday, they released the Forbes list of highest paid television actors for the past year. It's not surprising that the stars of CBS's The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family make the grade, as they have for so many years past, but some of the actors who made the list are surprising: what's Ray Romano doing on here, still? Also unsurprising but extremely disappointing is that the only non-white actor on the Forbes list is Kunal Nayyar from The Big Bang Theory, and, unfortunately, his qualifying to the list is a huge improvement on last year's rankings, which was made up entirely of white actors. This story's getting old, Hollywood.
Nayyar is one of the stars of the CBS sitcom, playing dorky genius astrophysicist Dr. Raj Koothrappali. He's played the role since the show premiered in 2007 (has it been that long since I have never watched The Big Bang Theory?) and comes in tied for third-highest paid actor in 2015. The rest of Nayyar's cast mates, of course, also made the list — Jim Parsons holds the top spot with earnings of $29 million dollars last year, with Johnny Galecki in second place with $27 million, and Simon Helberg tying with Nayyar for third at $20 million (Mark Harmon is also tied at third).
Kaley Cuoco is expected to blaze to the top of the Forbes Highest Paid Actresses list, which hasn't been released yet, but, as Deadline reported, Cuoco, Parsons and Galecki renegotiated their contracts in 2014 to get the really big cheese: $1 million whopping dollars per episode. Nayyar's not far behind, making an estimated $750,000 to $800,000 dollars per episode. More like the Big Bucks Theory.
But why is there only one sitcom in this "golden age of television" that has room for one actor of color to make this elite list? Where are the black actors, or Hispanic or Asian actors? It's a tired story that keeps playing out in the numbers: Hollywood is still mostly myopic, favoring a cis, white, straight worldview. The list of highest paid movie actors and actresses that Forbes released earlier this August revealed more of the same. Bingbing Fan was the only woman of color on the list of highest paid actresses. As for the actors' list, there were actually a surprising amount of people of color; Jackie Chan even snagged the number two spot on the list.
But there are a handful that don't get their big bucks from Hollywood, but Bollywood. Five actors on the list were Indian actors, and, while that makes me very proud that my people are getting theirs, I wish more American actors of color had the same kind of success. Will Smith, Chow Yun-fat, and The Rock also made the list of highest paid actors, redeeming Hollywood just a bit, but that doesn't change the fact that, on the small screen, the lack of diversity and, more tangibly, the lack of recognition through increased salary for actors of color in Hollywood is so frustrating.
It's a puzzler that seems like it has the simplest of all solutions: those afforded the opportunities to make television and film need to prioritize diverse voices, faces, and stories. There's only so long that Hollywood can ignore the criticism that is coming from all sides, including now the American Civil Liberties Union, who are investigating the discriminatory hiring practices in the film and television industries. Many actors and actresses have used their platforms to speak out about being fed up as well; Viola Davis, in her speech accepting the SAG Award for her role on Shonda Rhimes' How To Get Away With Murder, thanked the audience in a cheeky speech for "thinking that a sexualized, messy, mysterious woman could be a 49-year-old, dark-skinned, African American woman who looks like me."
It does seem like the winds are changing in Hollywood with more vocalization among actors and directors as well, like Ava Duvernay and the incredibly prolific Shonda Rhimes, to make an effort to increase visibility. But it also seems like the progress is so unbearably slow, and this story repeats itself every single day. These numbers don't lie, and, while Nayyar should be celebrating, we have to ask — why aren't other TV stars of color getting that same cut?