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Equality, level-playing field remain dreams for actors of color

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Exit of Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park from the CBS drama Hawaii Five-O highlights Hollywood inequalities.

Hawaii Five-O costars Daniel Dae Kim (left) and Grace Park (second from right). Image via Facebook

Although opportunity for actors of color has never been greater than at the moment, equality and level-playing field still remain dreams in the entertainment industry. That is what the recent departure of Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park from the CBS drama Hawaii Five-O after unsuccessful salary negotiations clearly indicates.

The two Asian American actors have been on the popular show since its 2010 debut. It has now been revealed that they were paid less than their white male co-stars, Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan.

According to one report, the offers given to the two actors of Korean descent were 10 percent to 15 percent lower than the $200,000 Loughlin and Caan make per episode. Other sources reported that Kim’s contract came within two percent of Loughlin and Caan’s.

Showrunner Peter M. Lenkov released a statement on Twitter defending the network, “The truth is this: Both actors chose not to extend their contracts. CBS was extremely generous and proactive in their renegotiation talks,” he said. “So much so, the actors were getting unprecedented raises, but in the end they chose to move on.”

“Though I made myself available to come back, CBS and I weren’t able to agree to terms on a new contract, so I made the difficult choice not to continue.” Kim said in a Facebook post confirming his departure from the show.

Later in the post, he wrote a revealing sentence: “The path to equality is rarely easy.”

(Read Kim’s whole post toward the end of this story.)

The whole episode has once again highlighted the inequalities in Hollywood.

On Forbes’ list of the world’s highest paid TV actors of 2016, just one Asian American cracked the top 15. That was Indian American Kunal Nayyar, famous for his role as Raj Koothrapali on the CBS hit Big Bang Theory. He made $22 million last year, making him the fourth highest paid TV actor.

On the list, 14 of the 15 highest paid TV actors were white. It doesn’t get much better for Asian American women either: only 2 Asian American actresses, Mindy Kaling and Priyankra Chopra, made the list for highest paid TV actresses of 2016. Kaling was the third highest paid last year, while Chopra, a Bollywood heartthrob, was the eighth highest paid. Kerry Washington and Sofia Vergara join them as the only women of color to make the list with the sixth and first spot respectively.

Racism and discrimination in Hollywood are not limited to pay disparity. In March, Indian American actor Kal Penn posted on his Twitter account some of the audition scripts he was given at the beginning of his career.

Sharing a number of scripts, in which the actor was set to play stereotypical Indian roles, Penn wrote: “Found a bunch of old scripts from some of my first years trying to be an actor.”

“They were awful,” he added. “Can you make this accent a little more AUTHENTIC?’ That usually meant they wanted Apu.”

Penn was referring to Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, a character in The Simpsons.

Read Daniel Dae Kim’s Facebook message: 

A MESSAGE TO MY FANS ABOUT HAWAII 5-0

Sorry for the delay in hearing from me, but like you I’m sure, my July 4th holiday was busy with friends and family. I’m back now and didn’t want to let any more time go by without reaching out. By now many of you have heard the news, and I’m sad to say it is true. I will not be returning to Hawaii Five-0 when production starts next week. Though I made myself available to come back, CBS and I weren’t able to agree to terms on a new contract, so I made the difficult choice not to continue.

As sad as it feels to say goodbye, what I feel most is gratitude. I am so deeply thankful to our crew, writers and everyone associated with the show – and especially the cast, who have been nothing but supportive through this entire process. They and the crew have been my second family for seven years and I wish them nothing but success for season 8 – and beyond.

I also want to say thank you to Peter Lenkov, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and everyone at CBS. I will always be grateful for their faith in me to bring Chin Ho Kelly to life. As an Asian American actor, I know first-hand how difficult it is to find opportunities at all, let alone play a well developed, three dimensional character like Chin Ho. I will miss him sincerely.

What made him even more special is that he was a representative of a place my family and I so dearly love. It has been nothing short of an honor to be able to showcase the beauty and people of Hawaii every week, and I couldn’t be prouder to call these islands home. To my local community, mahalo nui loa.

Finally, I want to thank all of you, the fans. I’ve read your messages and I can’t tell you how much they’ve meant to me. I never, ever forget that YOU are the reason Hawaii Five-0 is the success that it is, and interacting with you online and in person around the world(!) has been one of the greatest joys of this entire experience. I’m so sorry we won’t be continuing this journey together.

I’ll end by saying that though transitions can be difficult, I encourage us all to look beyond the disappointment of this moment to the bigger picture. The path to equality is rarely easy. But I hope you can be excited for the future. I am. 5-0 continues on after one of its strongest seasons. I’ve got new acting projects on the horizon, and as a producer, my company, 3AD, has its first show, THE GOOD DOCTOR, set to air this fall on ABC. I hope you’ll tune in. There’s a lot to look forward to and I’ll be sure to share it with you. In the meantime,
Aloha, thank you and Happy Independence Day!

-DDK