In Hollywood (and, well, everywhere), money talks. And one way to get a snapshot of which movies and TV shows have been successful as of late is to take a look at Forbes’ lists of the highest paid actors and actresses. Of course, critical acclaim isn’t necessarily going to line up with a star getting paid millions of dollars for a film, but, for instance, Avengers: Endgame was a really, really big deal and one of its stars tops the list of highest paid actresses for 2019.
But while the Forbes list (which actually estimates money earned pre-taxes and fees lawyers, agents, and managers from June 2018 to June 2019) might give an idea as to what’s popular in a broad sense, it also makes something else very clear: It’s hard to break onto this list, especially as a non-white actress. The only woman of color on this year's highest paid actress list is Sofía Vergara; all nine other women are white. And, because it’s also striking, all of them are varying shades of blonde.
The list shows a couple things as it accounts to all women: First, actresses are still making far less than their male counterparts. The income of the top ten earning actors adds up to $588.3 million; the actresses list adds up to $314.6 million. Second, you land on this list either by being in a huge property (i.e. a Marvel production or long-running TV series) or by producing in addition to acting. (Endorsements help, too.) Many of the women listed have their own production companies and have explained that they started producing in order to create better opportunities and roles for women.
But when it comes to women of color, starring on a long-running TV series, landing a major franchise role, or bringing in big bucks producing isn’t happening at as high a rate as it is for white women. Before this year, Forbes separated the highest earning TV actresses from the highest earning film actresses. Vergara has topped the TV list for seven years in a row, and that list has included non-white women more often than the film list. In 2018, the TV list also included Kerry Washington. In 2016 and 2017, Vergara and Washington were joined by Mindy Kaling and Priyanka Chopra. The past five years of the film list, on the other hand, only featured two non-white women: Fan Bingbing (twice) and Deepika Padukone (once).
While there is more opportunity for non-white women to have starring roles on TV than there is in film, there’s much left to be desired in both areas. According to UCLA’s 2019 Hollywood Diversity Report, as of 2017 theatrical films featured women in the lead role 32.9% of the time and minorities (of any gender) made up 19.8% of lead roles. On television, 39.7% of broadcast scripted shows had women in the lead and 21.5% a minority in the lead. Cable scripted shows had women in the lead 43.1% of the time and a minority in the lead for 21.3% of series.
Across the board, actresses are fighting for more opportunities and for better roles. But, as is the case in pretty much every aspect of society, not everyone is being included in that fight in the same way. At least not yet.
Click through to check out the top earning actresses of 2019, read about what they’ve been up to, and how they are changing the game for — hopefully — all women in their field.