Forbes released its Highest Paid Actors List yesterday and Robert Downey Jr topped the list with $75 million. Not surprising given his very profitable role as Iron Man in 4 Marvel films, two of which joined the very exclusive billion dollar club. According to Variety:
Forbes says it compiles its salary figures based on talks with agents, producers, lawyers and others to calculate how much each actor earned from entertainment-related work from June 2013 to June 2014.
What intrigued me about the list is the noticeable absence of women in the top ten. So I took it upon myself to do a little digging and you will (or won’t) be surprised at what I found.
First off, let me clarify a few things. In my research, I only looked at the top ten for each year. I went back until I found a woman make an appearance in the top ten. I made a list of those who made the Forbes list more than three times and I made sure to factor in race as part of my assessment (white/non-white*). The years that the list was published (2007-2014) differs from the years that they used to determine earnings (2006-2013).
The last time a woman made the top ten list was Jodie Foster in the 2007 list. That’s eight years ago! Since then, no woman has made the top ten. In the last eight years, the same group of names appear:
Leonardo DiCaprio (7)
Adam Sandler (7)
Will Smith (6)
Johnny Depp (6)
Tom Cruise (6)
Tom Hanks (4)
Ben Stiller (4)
Robert Downey Jr (4)
Mark Wahlberg (4)
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (3)
Brad Pitt (3)
In the last eight years, there have been 4 non-white and 27 white people on the list (this includes Foster and the Sopranos cast who are considered as one unit). This this isn’t a surprise to me, given that actors make the most money from movies that they lead. We don’t see a lot of female-led films, and the roles offered to minorities are often given to the same group of people–who are usually men**. Producing and creating films also plays a role which, again, is dominated by white men in terms of the blockbusters and wide releases — the movies that make the big money.
*Race is hard to quantify, given that it is ultimately a social construction, so there are one or two people who were difficult to place. Despite the small margin of error that could be factored in, the race gap is too large to ignore.
**When roles are given to someone who identifies as a minority, it’s often given to a black person. When we discuss racial representations on screen, we don’t often diversify within the minority groups themselves. Consequently, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, etc., actors are often neglected entirely.