home Arts & Literature, Entertainment, Racism Was race a factor in the Hawaii 5-0 pay dispute?

Was race a factor in the Hawaii 5-0 pay dispute?


It has recently been announced that Grace Park and Daniel Dae Kim will not be returning to Hawaii Five-0 for an eighth season. As reported by Variety, Park and Kim chose to leave the CBS series when they could not reach an agreement with the network regarding pay.

What were Park and Kim requesting from CBS? Pay equality with their white co-stars, Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan.

According to Variety sources, the deal CBS offered Park and Kim was 10-15% less than O’Loughlin and Caan’s pay, with the latter receiving “percentage points on the show’s back end.” Park and Kim have offered no comment at this point.

Official word from CBS is all warm wishes and sentiments that the actors will always be “ohana” (Hawaiian for family) and that they will be sorely missed. Executive producer Peter Lenkov stated, “Needless to say, Daniel has been an instrumental part of the success of ‘Hawaii Five-0’ over the past 7 seasons and it has personally been a privilege to know him. Grace’s presence gave ‘Hawaii Five-0’ a beauty and serenity to each episode. She was the consummate collaborator, helping build her character from day 1.”

And though Park and Kim have not directly addressed the specific reasons for their departures, it’s impossible to ignore the question of why they were paid less than their costars? Looking at the available information, the whole situation smacks of racial inequality.

But were Park and Kim supporting players on the show? Is that why they were paid less?

While I admit I’ve only seen a few episodes of Hawaii Five-0, the main cast is most usually described as an ensemble, with the leads, Park, Kim, O’Loughlin, and Caan, nearly exclusively depicted as a foursome in promotional pictures. Since 2010, Park and Kim (assumedly along with O’Loughlin and Caan) have appeared in all seven seasons of the series and nearly every episode. All four actors received devoted storylines, and all four actors have their own fan following.

One could also try to make the argument that perhaps Park and Kim just aren’t as popular or recognizable as O’Loughlin and Caan, that the white actors have more fans than the Asian actors (a tired defense Hollywood often uses to defend not casting Asians). But again, that just simply isn’t true.

Park appeared as a series regular on the immensely successful Battlestar Galactica (as well as in the TV mini-series Battlestar Galactica: The Face of the Enemy), and Kim was a lead on the iconic TV series Lost. Kim also serves as executive producer for three shows in development at three separate networks, including The Good Doctor for ABC, in collaboration with David Shore, creator of House

Additionally, since we live in an age where Twitter is the “measure of a man,” Daniel Dae Kim has 204K Twitter followers and Scott Caan has 4,790 (as of this writing). It does not appear that Grace Park and Alex O’Loughlin are on Twitter.

By all accounts it does not seem that Park and Kim are any less necessary or popular than their white counterparts. One might even say that on a series shot and set in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, their presence is vital to the authenticity of the show. As a minority-majority state, Kim and Park were representing a lot of people in Hawai‘i. To have an all-white cast would not only be inaccurate, but frankly, bizarre. (Replacements for Park and Kim have not been announced, though a series regular named “Tani” is currently being cast. Tani’s race is not yet known.)

With Asian actors struggling for visibility in film and television, the loss of two beloved Asian actors on a long-running network show is a major loss.

No doubt Park and Kim’s choice may have been a difficult one: stay on the show portraying two fleshed out Asian-American characters, but at lower pay than your white costars, thus perpetuating the practice of pay inequality amongst minority actors (not to mention women)? Or declare it unacceptable and leave a good thing?

But it is unacceptable.

Pay inequality is sadly nothing new in film and television. Women and minorities are historically paid less than white men. Despite the growing pushback, studios and networks continue the same worn out arguments that minorities don’t have mass appeal to American audiences or aren’t bankable; they can’t invest in minorities, or even women, because they won’t earn like their cis white male counterparts.

Recently, star of Shameless, Emmy Rossum, fought back against Warner Bros. when they offered her a paycheck equal with co-star William H. Macy, despite his getting paid more in the past. As the “de facto lead” on the show Rossum believed that she should get paid more than the supporting Macy – as he had been paid more previously. Rossum won the negotiation and received higher pay.

The cast of the CBS juggernaut The Big Bang Theory recently went to bat for their costars, Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch. Despite being major characters on the show since the third season (the show has been on for 10 seasons and is slated to go on for an 11th and 12th), they earned significantly less than what is considered the lead cast. The leads all agreed to take pay cuts so that Bialik and Rauch could earn a paycheck more in keeping with their status on the show. But it was the castmates that budged, not the studio.

Admittedly neither of these examples are the same as the Five-0 situation. While Bialik, Rauch, and Rossum are all women, and women still learn less than than men in film and TV, they are all white. There are simply very few, if any instances where Asian actors in American media have even had the opportunity to fight for equal pay. This speaks to the lack of parts going to Asian actors.

An actor can’t fight for equal pay if they aren’t working. Hollywood execs often try to neutralize lack of diversity accusations by pointing to supporting or minor characters that are not white. Very often these characters are just “tokens” to bolster the claim of diversity. But in reality this just a thinly veiled attempt to preserve the dominance of straight, white, male actors telling predominantly straight, white, male stories.

In “Inequality in 800 Popular Films: Examining Portrayals of Gender, Race/Ethnicity, LGBT, and Disability from 2007-2015” by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti, and Dr. Katherine Pieper for USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, 100 of the “top-grossing domestic films” in America between 2007 and 2015 were examined in regard to representation of gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT people, and those with disabilities. 

In those top-grossing 100 films, zero leads or co-leads were Asian actors. 49 of the 100 films did not have any Asian characters, and only 18 films “approximated fictional authenticity” of the proportional representation of Asian people in the US population. This is literally erasing the Asian-American population from popular depiction on film. (Black and Latino characters representation fared even worse.)

Only 3.9% of speaking parts, out of thousands of roles, went to Asian actors.

With the departure of Park and Kim, Asian representation in American media suffered another hit; possibly over an antiquated belief that actors of color are worth less than white actors. After seven seasons of being part of a tight, successful, ensemble cast (not to mention previous successful casts), haven’t Park and Kim finally proven that Asian stars are equal to their white costars?

“Hawaii Five-0 Poster” image by Jamie Luther via Flickr/Creative Commons


Louise Hung

An American writer living in Japan, Louise is a contributor and researcher for the Order of the Good Death and Ask a Mortician. You can find her on Twitter @LouiseHung1.