In November, while participating in a roundtable discussion with Emma Roberts, Ellen Pompeo, and Gabrielle Union, Gina Rodriguez clumsily addressed the racial inequalities within the gender pay gap and applied them where it does not translate: her rarified world in Hollywood. “I get so petrified in this space talking about equal pay, especially when you look at the intersectional aspect of it, where white women get paid more than Black women,” she started and should’ve stopped, but didn’t. “And black women get paid more than Asian women and Asian women get paid more than Latina women, and it’s like a very scary space to step into. I always feel like I fail when I speak about it because I can’t help but feel already so gracious to do what I do.”
She was immediately and justifiably scrutinized for choosing to introduce the conversation (a topic she’s tackled before, albeit, not well) by arguing that black actresses get paid more than Latina actresses overall, which is simply untrue. Rodriguez’s comment was likely in reference to a November 2016 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research that concluded white women are paid an average of 82 cents for every dollar a white man makes, black women make 68 percent of white men’s earnings, and Latinas earn 62 percent—or at least some equivalent analysis that draws figures across industries and economic class.
Those figures are not necessarily equivalent among Hollywood actors, which is why much of the public criticism of Rodriguez challenged the statistics she pulled from and reiterated how they are irrelevant to the entertainment industry. In one popular tweet, film critic Rebecca Theodore-Vachon pointed out that Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara has been the highest-paid TV actor in Hollywood for three years in a row, regardless of gender, and the highest paid actress for seven years in a row. Comparatively, Kerry Washington was the only black woman to crack Forbes’s top ten in 2018.
Rodriguez’s roundtable comments were inaccurate, ignorant, anti-black, and consistent with statements she’s made in the past. As Tonja Renée Stidhum wrote at the Root, “It’s really telling when non-black POC stand on the backs of black people’s fight for representation to champion their own causes. It’s never ‘Hey, let’s build our own’ and more, ‘Hey, y’all fight is trending, why can’t ours, too?’” And because her remarks were needlessly dismissive of black actresses, it’s no wonder that her statement has followed her in the months since.
On Tuesday, Rodriguez addressed the backlash on SiriusXM’s Sway In The Morning while promoting her new movie, Miss Bala, itself riddled with racist stereotypes. What emerged was a weepy performance from Gina:
“The backlash was devastating, to say the least. Because the Black community was the only community I looked towards growing up. We didn’t have many Latino shows and the Black community made me feel like I was seen. So to get anti-black is saying that I’m anti-family. My father is dark-skinned. He’s Afro-Latino, and my cousins are, and Puerto Ricans are African, Taino and Spaniard, and it’s in my blood, so that was really devastating to me. I know my heart. I know what I meant, and I really wish we weren’t living in a culture where we’re clickbait, because I’ve never said anything controversial about anybody. And far would I ever, ever—because if anything, the Black community is my community. As Latinos, we have Black Latinos, that is what we are. I am not, so I think when I speak about Latino advocacy, people believe I mean only people my skin color. Little do they know I am very aware of what my culture is and the opportunities I create and who I put in those spaces are both the Latino and the black community. So it was really, really... it was really a dark time for me. It made me get away from social media because my mental health is much more important to me.”
She continued, arguing that only black people were upset by her remarks—immediately contradicting her prior comments, while erasing black women and Afro-Latinxs:
“It is sadly a fact that Latinas in all industries make less money. It’s a fact, and that sucks, but I wasn’t saying that just them... it’s interesting, because the white community, nor did the Asian community, get mad at me. I found that very interesting that, like, the one community that I felt that I related to the most were the most upset with me. That was just devastating. How do you talk to so many people and let them know that, like, ‘You are so far from the truth. That is so far from my heart. That is so far from who I am. And if you go and see the interview, I was not comparing anyone.’”
This is almost an expert class on how not to respond to criticism. No one called into question her own race, and her claiming black roots in an attempt to curb anti-black criticism opposes the points she originally made about Latina workers. As a Puerto Rican woman myself, the defense that Boricuas are built of “African, Taíno and Spaniard” blood is one I’ve heard my entire life, weaponized after another Puerto Rican says something hateful about someone with darker skin. It is racist, and it is used as a final, cheap defense against colorism.
All Rodriguez needed to do was apologize and show her support for other women of color. (Immediately after her incorrect racial breakdown of the gender pay gap in Hollywood at the roundtable, Rodriguez described a situation in which another “bigger” actor was offered more money for the same job. Gabrielle Union jumped in to question “whose standards” determine the pay, while both propping up Rodriguez’s past successes and calling into question the white authorities that create the wage gap. Rodriguez would be wise to learn from her.) Instead, Rodriguez’s comments read like an application of her own internalized, institutionalized sexism and racism; she pits women of color against one another, fundamentally opposed to the beliefs she so adamantly espouses.
The roundtable wasn’t even the first time Rodriguez has made remarks that undercut her black peers. In advance of the animated film Small Foot, Rodriguez and co-star Yara Shahidi conducted a few interviews together last September. In one conversation for Blogxilla, captured above, Shahidi was asked about being a role model for black women. Rodriguez cut interviewer Xilla Valentine off and essentially All-Lives-Mattered the comment by interjecting an intolerant, “for so many women, women.” He held his own by responding, “for women, too, but for black women, we need people on a whole other level.” Shahidi answered the question—“luckily I don’t have to promote some sort of facade,” she said, “I get to be a part of such an incredible and brilliant and thoughtful community, it’s very easy to be constantly motivated”—but Rodriguez’s interruption spoke volumes.
In that situation, and in the roundtable, Rodriguez’s privilege as a light-skin Latina allowed her to participate in behaviors she may associate with white people or men: the erasure of others. Her comments and her apology attempt to cast her employment as a win for all women when, in fact, the conversation about inequality is much more nuanced and complicated than she herself realizes. When Rodriguez said she thinks she “always fails” when she discusses the gender pay gap, she’s right—not because of her successes, but because she’s ignoring and underscoring the experiences of others.