Actress and new mom Danielle Brooks says her biggest money mistake was not advocating for herself financially during her years on the Netflix hit Orange Is the New Black.
In an interview with CNBC, she said she found out that despite the success of the show and the popularity of her character, Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson, the children of fellow Netflix hit Stranger Things were raking in more money than her.
“When you come to find out the Stranger Things kids are making more than you are in your final season, that’s heartbreaking,” she said. “A part of me feels like it’s a little bit of my fault because I should have fought more, I should have put my foot down.”
It’s unclear how much Brooks was making near the end of the series, but CNBC pointed out that the lead child actors of Stranger Things were taking home $200,000 an episode during their third season. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter near OITNB’s end in 2019, Brooks revealed that during the first season she made $5,000 an episode, which at the time, was a big deal for her.
“I had done 10 episodes and made the most money I had ever made,” she said at the time. “We got a bump in the middle of shooting season one. I first started making minimum, which is a little less than $1,000 an episode, and I was making $5,000 an episode that first season. At the time, that was everything to me.”
But as she told CNBC, she realized the importance of going after her worth from the experience when she learned after seven seasons and some damn good performances, kids were making more than her in just three seasons.
“As a woman, I wish I would have stood by what numbers I wanted from jobs, and not fluctuated.”
Orange Is the New Black aired from 2013 to 2019. Stranger Things has been on Netflix since 2016.
Brooks is not the first woman to feel like, or publicly declare, that she wasn’t being paid her just dues or fairly. Hit the flip to see a few other women who talked about pay gaps they’ve had to deal with or fight against.
Taraji P. Henson
While Taraji earned an Oscar nomination for her work in the hit film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, she struggled to get paid what she felt she deserved in her role as Queenie. Despite asking for $500,000 for the part, she was only given $150,000. “I’m number three on the call sheet,” she said about that experience. “Does that make sense to you?”
An Oscar winner, Octavia Spencer shared that more than once, other people had to speak up to help her get paid what she deserved compared to her co-stars. For the Netflix Madame CJ Walker biopic on the way, executive producer LeBron James intervened to help negotiate her pay. And while working on a film with actress Jessica Chastain, that actress helped Spencer get paid five times what she was offered.
“Jessica and I stood together, and that was interesting that she would take that position…but we also need advocates and allies in negotiating.”
Tracee Ellis Ross
After finding out that her Blackish co-star Anthony Anderson was taking home a bigger salary than she was, there were reports that Tracee Ellis Ross would be appearing on less episodes of the series. She bucked those claims, saying she “wanted to be compensated in a way that matches my contribution to a show that I love for many reasons, including the opportunity it allows me to be a fully realized black woman on TV.” However, she hadn’t threatened to change her work on the show. Nevertheless, she was glad to see how many people spoke out in support of her.
“I’m grateful for the outpouring of support,” she said. “I’m truly thankful that important conversations are taking place about fighting for women’s worth and equality, tightening the pay gap in every industry.”
Oscar winner Mo’Nique not only asked people to boycott Netflix because they were looking to pay her a lot less ($500,000) for a stand-up special in comparison to the millions they offered Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and Amy Schumer, she recently filed a pay discrimination lawsuit against them over it. She confirmed that she was suing to make a difference.
“I had a choice to make: I could accept what I felt was pay discrimination or I could stand up for those who came before me and those who will come after me,” she said. “I chose to stand up.”
After Mo’Nique shared that she felt she was lowballed by Netflix for a comedy special, fellow comedian Wanda Sykes revealed that she was offered even less than Mo for something similar by Netflix, and refused it as well. She tweeted out to Mo’Nique, “thank you for speaking out. @Netflix offered me less than half of your $500k. I was offended but found another home.”
The mogul and former talk show host revealed that during The Oprah Winfrey Show days, she had to fight for the salaries of the women she worked with, and she had to throw around some threats to one particular male boss to get them deserved raises.
“He actually said to me, ‘They’re only girls. They’re a bunch of girls. What do they need more money for?'” she recounted. “I go, ‘Well, either they’re gonna get raises or I’m gonna sit down. I will not work unless they get paid.’ And so they did.”
After it was revealed that LeBron James signed a four-year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers for $154 million, then WNBA rookie A’ja Wilson, in a simple but poignant tweet, opened up about the low pay WNBA players get in comparison to their male counterparts. “$154M,” she wrote, “must. be. nice. We over here looking for a M but Lord, let me get back in my lane.”
The star, who at the time was the lead of the BET hit series Being Mary Jane, sued the network after they tried to make her film more episodes of the show, but not for more pay. BET was accused of trying to get her to film two 10-episode seasons back to back when she agreed via her contract to only do 13 episodes a season at max. The lawsuit read, “BET now wants to shoot twenty episodes of the series back-to-back and cram all of the episodes into a single season in order to fraudulently extend the term of Ms. Union’s contract, with no additional consideration, and to deprive Ms. Union of her agreed-upon compensation for the next two seasons of Being Mary Jane.”
The lawsuit was settled, with Union learning that standing up for herself is very necessary. “I was told something,” she said to Essence. “I was promised something. For me, I thought I can stand up and try to fight, or I can go to my grave feeling like a piece of sh-t for not standing up.”
It was pointed out a few years back that in comparison to not only her male tennis playing counterparts, but also in comparison to female ones like Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams was earning significantly less in endorsement deals despite her formidable Grand Slam title count. Many have wondered if not only her being a Black woman, but also one with a very muscular yet also curvaceous build, a controversial one at times, plays a part.
When she got pregnant, track runner Alysia Montano was told by her sponsor Nike that they would be pausing her contract and would stop paying her once she went on leave. She spoke up and against the the company, in both a video and via a New York Times piece on the matter. After plenty of public outcry, Nike was pushed to introduce a new maternity policy for all sponsored athletes that guaranteed athlete’s pay and bonuses for 18 months around their pregnancies.