In a depressing and thorough review of the state of equal pay in the film and television industry, Variety includes an anecdote that Amy Schumer, after seeing the headline-making deals that comedians Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle got from Netflix, went to the streaming company and asked for increased compensation based on their deals. Rock and Chappelle each commanded $20 million per special, but Schumer was offered $11 million for “The Leather Special”, which aired earlier this year. It’s a move reminiscent of Charlize Theron renegotiating her pay for The Huntsman: Winter’s War after the Sony Hack exposed pay inequity even among A-list stars.
There will inevitably be nitpicking that Chappelle and Rock are way more established with much longer careers, and arguably are bigger names than Schumer, but at the point Schumer was touring the material that would become “The Leather Special”, she was coming off Trainwreck and her newly-minted movie star status. She is of Now, and is easily one of the most—if not THE most—recognizable women working in stand-up today. We can debate forever who we would rather see get paid than Amy Schumer—Lainey nominated Sarah Silverman—but there’s no denying that Schumer has a stack of achievements and career highs of her own.
Variety doesn’t specify what Schumer ended up walking away with, just that she got “significantly more” after going back to Netflix. That’s not the same thing as “equal to” (see also: The Hawaii 5-0 debacle), so I wonder what the impact of this will really be. Schumer got more, sure, but will Netflix go forward with more equitable deals? Or do they just treat this like an aberration, that a star can do this, but not the touring comic who wouldn’t even have a special but for Netflix’s aggressive content domination? And do they start making equitable deals?
That’s the real question. Do women start getting offered the same compensation FROM THE BEGINNING? That’s why Patty Jenkins’ potential deal for Wonder Woman 2 is such a milestone—they’re treating her just as they would a man coming off a successful movie. (Or maybe it’s that Jenkins is demanding to be treated the same.) Amy Schumer sometimes makes it hard to root for her, but it’s important that networks and studios be held accountable for how they value talent, and by going back and demanding Netflix increase her deal to make it competitive with the headlining male comedians, she’s opening the door for other comics to do the same.
Talent deals are all about precedent and comps, and while it doesn’t sound like Schumer actually achieved parity, she did get MORE. And more might lead to the next person in line getting parity. It has become abundantly clear the networks and studios aren’t going to just start handing out equal deals just because it’s the right thing to do. So this is how it’s going to be—one deal at a time, and individual talents opening the door ever wider for the next person through.