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Does Terrence Howard’s Lawsuit Against CAA Provide Further Insight On A Deeper Equity Issue Plaguing Hollywood?

In 2015, film and television producers Lee Daniels and Danny Strong debuted the critically acclaimed television series, “Empire,” starring actors Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard. As characters, they portrayed a complicated couple attempting to navigate the duality of family and business. Each week, viewers were engrossed in the drama of this fictitious musical dynasty, but behind the scenes everything wasn’t as glamorous as it seemed.

Howard has been in a legal battle over his salary from the show since December 2023. According to a previous post from AFROTECH™, the “Hustle & Flow” actor claims he received up to 50% less than what his white counterparts would have made in a starring role similar to “Empire’s” music mogul character Luscious Lyon.

Terrence Howard’s Complaints

Based on the lawsuit documents filed against the Creative Artist Agency (CAA), the complaint alleges that Howard was unaware of the fees and conflict of interest the agency would impose. Additionally, after the show’s premiere, it became evident that Howard was being underpaid, per the complaint. His initial agreed-upon $125,000 for three days of filming the pilot episode was a gross undervalue of his worth. And that same rate was his per episode pay moving forward. Yet Howard claims his participation was instrumental in the show’s rise to fame.

The complaint referenced Forbes’s description of “Empire” as “the most valuable show on broadcast TV” and pointed to iSpot.tv’s report that “first runs and reruns of the show brought in $125.5 million in ad revenue in 2016 and $124.5 million in 2015.”

“The show was a financial bonanza for Fox, the Production Companies, and CAA,” the complaint read. “Following two seasons of Empire consisting of 12 episodes and 18 episodes respectively, it had become clear that given Howard’s star power and the unprecedented success of the TV Show, the Pilot Agreement was woefully underpaying him at a rate of $125,000 per episode.”

Although Howard’s real-life persona is not as vindictive as his on-screen portrayal of Lucious Lyons, his determination is just as prominent. As the suit advances, Howard is adamant that racial discrimination is the root of the pay discrepancies.

The Math Is Not Adding Up

As previously mentioned by AFROTECH™, the 55-year-old estimated that he is owed over $120 million when considering what was made by other actors at the time, most notably those from the TV sitcom “Big Bang Theory,” also airing on Fox.

“‘Empire’ had 28 million viewers,” Howard explained on an episode of “Straight Talk  With Daphne “Phaneē” Wynn. “‘The Big Bang Theory’ had 11 million viewers. They were getting $2 million — damn near $3 million — an episode, those white kids. They had no name recognition, no Oscar nominations, none of that.”

Although Howard knows what he deserves in back pay from the lowball offers and poor contracts, his fight is also a matter of principle, he says. The “Best Man” actor is using this moment to stand up to the “powers that be” and make a statement in the industry that this behavior shouldn’t persist.

“I drank the Kool-Aid. I believed that I was going to get paid or that I was getting compensated properly, but I wasn’t,” he told Rolling Stone at the end of 2023. “I just didn’t want to piss off CAA and Fox. They’re big companies to go to war against. But sooner or later, you’ve got to stand up because they’re just trampling over the rights of the artists.”

The Big Picture And Missed Potential

With a $4 million net worth, Howard has built a portfolio of financial success. However, this number could change if the case settles or the court rules in his favor.

Furthermore, Howard’s public advocacy speaks to Hollywood’s sizeable pervasive equity issue. His “Empire” co-star Taraji P. Henson has also been vocal about the wage gap for her and other Black women, sharing that she is doing just as much work for a fraction of the pay.

An Egregious Trend

The majority of actors who have been vocal about the pay disparities have been Black women. The consistent advocacy from those like actresses Viola Davis and Gabrielle Union signals the lack of opportunities that disproportionately impact this group.

According to the 2024 Hollywood Diversity Report, there was a lack of representation of BIPOC actors in 2023. Women vastly outnumbered their male counterparts in the disparity. Additionally, the report data showed that work with BIPOC leads had the smallest budgets on record (less than $10 million).

Although Black women are the most vocal about the blatant inequality that exists in the industry, Howard isn’t the only male actor being unfairly compensated. A recent Forbes list, highlighted by AFROTECH™, revealed that Denzel Washington was the solo Black actor to make the 2023 highest-paid actors list. This was despite the success of 2023 Box Office hits such as “Creed III” —grossing $276 million worldwide and starring actor and producer Michael B. Jordan and “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” with worldwide gross of $691 million, including actor and musician Shameik Moore voicing the lead character, Myles Morales.

Black actors and actresses have made considerable progress over the decades. With barriers broken and proverbial glass ceilings shattering, it is imperative that the fight continues to ensure Black men and women receive a fair amount of funds for their talent and hard work.



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