By TANDI CHABWA
As 2015 comes to a close, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of articles and arguments in the media on the staggering lack of equality – the focus largely being on the gender pay gap.
Actress Jennifer Lawrence penned an essay after it was revealed she was paid much less than her male co-stars in the movie American Hustle. Lawrence, the top paid actress of 2015, made $30 million less than the top paid actor of the year, Robert Downey Jr.
Many celebrities praised Lawrence and offered their support to fight Hollywood’s inequality in relation to gender and pay. And while it is a start, this current, trendy bashing of the “discrimination” leaves much more visible issues forgotten.
What about the fact the Hunger Games franchise is one of the rare blockbuster movies with a woman as the main character? A recent study found that only 21 of the top 100 movies of 2014 had a female lead or co-lead. This means it’s much harder for females to get the high paying roles that are commonplace for their male counterparts.
And of those few roles, how many of those are represented by women of colour? We can’t forget that in 2013, over 76 per cent of speaking actors in the best-selling movies were Caucasian.
This fall, Viola Davis of the TV show How to Get Away with Murdermade history when she became the first black actress to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a drama series. In the 67 years of the Emmy’s existence, Davis is the only black woman to win in that category.
Following her win, Davis took to the stage and graciously accepted the award, using the opportunity to address the audience about racial inequalities in a highly emotional speech.
After quoting Harriet Tubman she added, “The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” She also acknowledged the show’s writers, thanking them for “redefining what it means to be beautiful … to be black.”
Her passionate speech quickly went viral, becoming one of the highlights of this year’s Emmy Awards. Alas, since it’s 2015, it wasn’t long before Davis started receiving backlash for her comments.
TV soap series General Hospital actress Nancy Lee Grahn tweeted that Davis “has never been discriminated against,” adding that she should have “brought every woman in the picture” instead of focusing on her personal experience as an African-American performer.
And that is the brutality of today’s media. As one person stands up for themselves, someone else throws them back down. Additional examples include the Twitter hashtags: #BlackLivesMatter and it’s ugly companion #AllLivesMatter; #YesAllWomen and the disgusting use of #Meninism. It has become strangely and disturbingly human instinct to discredit others’ struggles, just because we are struggling as well. It’s like a person with a broken leg saying someone with a broken arm doesn’t have it as bad as them. Who is in any position to judge something like that?
Is it fair to say all women are the same in today’s world? Should Davis’ win have been portrayed as a triumph for all women, despite the fact that she is the first winner in 67 years to be non-white? Should the gender pay gap be touted as a women’s issue when it fails to address the major equality issues that women of colour face?
By turning Davis’ milestone for black women into an issue inclusive of all women, it trivializes the long and taxing journey women of colour in the media have had to take. It overshadows and forgets that while we have made progress against subconscious, institutionalized racism, it’s still very much alive and well. It’s a form of denial about a racist history.
Some will argue that by making her win strictly a “black” issue, it’s racist to white women. These people are speaking from a place of luxury, where they can afford to not see race as an issue. As writer Jarune Uwujaren has said, “If you have trouble seeing race or are tired of people making things about race, realize that if they could, most people of colour would ignore race too.”
We’re not saying that the pay gap and lack of female roles isn’t a big deal and shouldn’t be fought for. It is and it should be. We’re just saying that while we are fighting for women to be equal to men, we should also be fighting for the non-white women who are not yet equal to white women.