Octavia Spencer knows her worth. The 48-year-old actress won an Oscar in 2012 — and has been nominated two times since — has taken home a Golden Globe award, multiple SAG awards and was just nominated for her first Emmy. But Spencer believes her pay doesn’t match her talent.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Spencer was asked about whether her willingness to walk away from negotiations has been key to getting paid what she deserves.
“Oh, I haven’t gotten paid what I feel I deserve. Not yet,” she clarified. “But I always get a raise. Every single job, I get a raise. I don’t think any woman has really gotten what she deserves. But when I ask for something and they don’t meet it, I’m always willing to walk away.”
“What would you say to women, and perhaps Black women especially, who may not feel that they’re in a position to turn down professional opportunities?” THR asked.
“I haven’t always been in this position; there were times when I had to take what was being offered. But I can guaran-damn-tee you that my agent always made sure I got a raise,” Spencer replied. “Always advance your position. Always. Sometimes it means, ‘Hey, I’m sorry, if I’m not getting what I need, then I’m going to have to move on to a place that does value me.’”
Spencer continued, “When you are starting out, show how hard you work. There’s always room for advancement. Educate yourself on what everybody else in the market is getting, and then you ask for what you deserve. You’re not always going to get it, but you also have to be willing to walk away at some point.”
When it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement, Spencer says Hollywood has its part to play.
“It began before us — it’s about equal protection under the law and to be seen as human beings. That’s the struggle. I think entertainment should be an example,” she explained. “There is value in telling stories that we haven’t heard, from marginalized and underserved communities. I think Hollywood has for too long regurgitated things, and now it’s time to tell new and fresh stories. Representation matters. When you see a representation of yourself onscreen, it’s not just for you, it’s for the world at large, so that you can be visible. It’s important to be seen and heard.”
Spencer, who received an Emmy nomination for her lead role in Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker, said she grew up inspired by the legacy of Madam C.J. Walker. Walker, a Black businesswoman and philanthropist, is known as America’s first self-made female millionaire after creating a cosmetics and grooming empire.
“The fact that this woman, who was born the first free person in her home post-slavery, was able to achieve so much when the world told her that she had no value — that’s what my mother used as the example,” Spencer told THR. “Your station in life does not dictate your path or your destiny.”
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