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King Richard Actor Talk Fighting For Equal Pay, And How Will Smith Helped Advocate For Better Salaries On The Movie

Aunjanue Ellis in King Richard
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The love between King Richard’s Will Smith and his female co-stars has been palpable since the biopic dropped last year. That affection even extended to producers Venus and Serena Williams as seen in his emotional reaction to winning his first-ever SAG Award. A true sign of the connection happened when Smith reportedly gave the entire cast payouts after the film became a day-and-date release. But the Oscar frontrunner’s good deed was only half the story, as his co-star Aunjanue Ellis spoke up about fighting for equal pay, and Smith advocating for better salaries.

Ellis gave the full story about how the payout happened while promoting the biopic on The Breakfast Club. Before opening up about the Emancipation star’s role in the pay increase, the Oscar nominee was taken aback as the headline-making story was brought up. Aunjanue Ellis took the moment to correct the prevailing narrative.

He did, but I think what’s important to say about that and I think it's important that I say this. That, as I said, after you get the job the fight is not over. You have to fight to be paid and that kind of thing. And I did that job, and I’m thankful for it. But I could have been paid better. And so, I told him this, and he did something about it. And as a result of his doing, his responding to the letter that I wrote to him, not only did he address that with increasing my pay, but the other actors in the movie also. Their pay increased. Which is proof of when Black women do well, everybody does well.

The If Beale Street Could Talk actress just wanted viewers to know she played a role in the cast getting a huge payout. After setting the record straight, Aunjanue Ellis didn’t fault Smith in how the story was spun. It was reported that Will Smith gave everyone a bonus along with other gifts throughout the production shoots. The actress wasn’t done being honest, as she mentioned Black actresses were still fighting hard for equal pay in Hollywood despite commitments to inclusivity. At least the Oscar nominee is doing her part to make things fair for up-and-coming actresses.

But Ellis wasn’t done speaking on the equal pay issue. She was asked about the criticism the cast’s agents received for not properly negotiating their salaries. The Oscar nominee responded by stating agents doing and wanting the best for them. But she placed much of the blame on the film industry for not valuing Black women’s worth in Hollywood. Aunjanue Ellis went even further by saying Black actresses’ work wasn’t placed on the same level as white actors’.

Of course, the Oscar nominee isn’t the first Black actress to speak up about inequality in Hollywood. Viola Davis went viral in 2018 for slamming the pay gap for Black and white actresses, pointing out she was underpaid despite being an A-lister like Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore. Halle Berry was in harmony with Aunjanue Ellis and Davis, by speaking on being the only Black Leading Actress Oscar winner while striving for better representation in entertainment.

Hopefully, Aunjanue Ellis will continue to get her worth as she is nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar for King Richard. Of course, she has stiff competition in her category, including Ariana DeBose and Jessie Buckley. Check out to see what other Oscar nominees might hear their name called on Mar. 27 on ABC.

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