The “Hawaii Five-O” Pay Dispute is a Reminder That It’s Time for Equity in Hollywood

Actors Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park have decided to leave Hawaii Five-O after starring on the hit show for seven seasons due to pay inequality. The pair starred as Chin Ho Kelly and Kono Kalakaua, respectively, two of the show’s lead characters. Without Kim and Park in Hawaii Five-O, there will be no Asian or Pacific Islander leads in a show set in Hawaii.

Kim and Park have starred alongside Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan since 2010, yet reportedly made between 10 to 15 percent less than their white co-stars. When Kim and Park entered wage negotiations with CBS, they were offered raises that would not have closed that gap. At one point, CBS offered Kim a raise that came within 2 percent of O’Loughlin and Caan’s earnings, but failed to include a back-end deal like O’Loughlin and Caan have—giving them a cut of the show’s profits. Pay raises offered to Park, the only woman in the show’s central ensemble, were even lower than those offered to Kim.

After Kim responded to rumors about his exit from the show on Facebook, stating that “the path to equality is rarely easy,” CBS claimed that race was not a factor in the wage gap on the show. According to Variety, Kim and Park were seen as supporting actors and therefore paid less because of the difference between the job categories of lead and supporting actors. Kim, Park, O’Loughlin and Caan have each been in every single episode of Hawaii Five-O.

Kim and Park’s fight for equal pay highlights a greater issue in Hollywood: the need for equity not just in pay scales but also in casting opportunities for women and people of color in media. Discussion on these topics has become more open in recent years, with #OscarsSoWhite trending on twitter last year and Robin Wright’s public demand to be paid the same as her co-star Kevin Spacey for House of Cards. Yet we still see the same problems: Characters of color are played by white actors, the number of roles for actors of color are limited and often stereotypical and there is a pay gap based on gender and race.

In March of this year, Scarlet Johansson’s role in Ghost in the Shell was the topic of many discussions on white-washing in Hollywood. The film is a live-action adaptation of a well known Japanese manga series, television series and animated film, all set in modern Japan and exploring the effects of technology on globalization, consciousness and the body. The fact that Johansson, who has never lived in Japan and is not of Japanese decent, is playing a character who is supposed to be Japanese not only takes away from the authenticity of the film, but takes already limited roles away from actors of color.

According to a study done by the University of South Carolina examining portrayals of gender, race and LGBT issues in television and film from 2007 to 2014, 73.1 percent of actors in the top 100 films of 2014 were White, 4.9 percent were Hispanic/Latino, 12.5 percent were Black, 5.3 percent were Asian, 2.9 percent were Middle Eastern, 1.2 percent were from “other” racial or ethnic groupings and less than 1 percent were Native American, Alaskan Native or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. The Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA conducted a similar study published in 2016, finding that out of the 1,046 television pilots in development in April of 2015, less than a quarter had at least one minority lead.

And the few actors of color on the big and small screens typically earn less than their white counterparts. In a Newsweek report, television actors’ salaries are compared based on career length, number of awards won or nominated for, gender and race. At the bottom of the pack is Gina Rodriguez, who stars in the hit show Jane the Virgin and won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy in 2015. Rodriguez makes $60,000 an episode, which seems like a lot until you compare her salary to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ of Veep, who she beat out for her Golden Globe— $250,000 per episode. The highest-paid actor of color on television is Dwayne Johnson for his show on HBO, Ballers—but white actors Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco and Johnny Galecki make $1 million per episode on The Big Bang Theory.

Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park were able to play well-rounded, three-dimensional characters of color on a major television show. Hawaii Five-O is not the first, nor will it be the last, television show to pay its actors of color less than their white counterparts—but hopefully, Kim and Park’s decision to leave the set in the name of equity will push the film and television industries toward pursuing it more sincerely.


Kelsey Cochran is an Editorial Intern at Ms. and a senior at Gettysburg College majoring in Globalization Studies with a focus in Western media portrayal of Arab countries. She aspires to be a photojournalist and has previously been published in her hometown’s independent newspaper The Bay Weekly. When she isn’t tracking down subjects to interview for her next article, you can find her running on the rugby field, taking her friend’s next profile picture or talking about her time spent abroad for the hundredth time.