Actor Terrence Howard is suing his talent agency claiming that they failed to represent him properly in negotiations for his “lowball” salary on the hit TV series Empire — and is hinting that their alleged failure is rooted in racism.
Howard played hip-hop mogul and family patriarch Lucious Lyon in the Fox series that ran for six seasons from 2015 to 2020. The last two seasons of the series were marred with controversy by the offscreen antics of star Jussie Smollett, who claimed to have been attacked in the dead of winter by “MAGA racists” in downtown Chicago — a claim that quickly fell apart and eventually led to his conviction for reporting a false hate crime.
Howard appeared in almost every episode of the series but is now claiming that he should have been paid more for his work. And he feels that his representatives at CAA had a conflict of interest in convincing him to take a salary that was not befitting his career status, experience, and big name.
Even more, he believes his race may have played a part in the alleged slight.
“I can’t say for certain this was a racial issue, but I can’t imagine another counterpart—a white counterpart—with the same accolades, name recognition, and numbers that I had, receiving the lowball pay that I was receiving,” the actor told Rolling Stone.
Howard claimed that white stars during the years he was filming Empire were paid far more than he. Howard noted that Jim Parsons — who played Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory — was making far more than he was, even though by the end of their respective series, Empire had earned more viewers.
In the final seasons of The Big Bang Theory, for instance, Parsons was making a million dollars per episode. By comparison, Howard says he never made more than $350,000 per episode by the end of Empire.
He said he ultimately “drank the Kool-Aid” and accepted what he now feels are false claims that he would end up making a lot of money on the “back end.”
“You have all your agents telling you that you got the best deal possible, telling you, ‘Everything is good. Don’t worry, you’re going to get your money on the back-end. After we get to a hundred episodes, we’re going into syndication, and man, you’re gonna get paid, don’t rock the boat,’” Howard told the magazine.
“I drank the Kool-Aid. I believed that I was going to get paid, or that I was getting compensated properly, but I wasn’t,” he concluded. “I just didn’t want to piss off CAA and Fox. They’re big companies to go to war against. But sooner or later you’ve got to stand up, because they’re just trampling over the rights of the artists.”
Howard is not the only Hollywood player who has accused the industry of racism.
In March, longtime character actor Djimon Hounsou also accused Hollywood of “racism” and claimed he has been ripped off with his salaries for years.
Hounsou, who started his acting career more than 30 years ago and has had key roles in hits such as Aquaman, Captain Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Adam, and Shazam! Fury of the Gods, blasted Tinseltown and said, “I’m still struggling to try to make a dollar!”
“Today, we talk so much about the Oscars being so white, but I remember there was a time where I had no support at all: no support from my own people, no support from the media, from the industry itself. It felt like: ‘You should be happy that you’ve got nominated,’ and that’s that,” Hounsou exclaimed at the time.
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