The Wage Gap Soap Opera

Sarah Joy Brown exposes wage disparity in soaps.

General Hospital's Carly Corinthos was Hell in Heels. She stole her mother's husband, lied about the paternity of her son, and framed her lover for murder, and that was just a Thursday. Her original portrayer, Sarah Joy Brown, won back to back to back Emmys for her performances. Yet today she revealed that she was paid less than half of what her former male costars, Steve Burton and Maurice Bernard, made. This drags soap operas into a national conversation for the first time, and they are not on the right side of history.

As with many things these days, it started with a tweet (sigh). "For all of the many years I work with Steve Burton and Maurice Bernard, all of the years, at ABC, even after winning three Emmy’s, I was paid less then 1/2 their salary. #Truth," Sarah Joy Brown publicly announced for all the world to see. I don't know why she stopped short of tagging her former network in the tweet or her former co-stars for that matter. Maybe she just wanted to air her grievances without having to argue with the people she used to spend a third of her time with. Maybe she is hoping for a conversation along the same lines as the one that is being had because of Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg.

In case you've been living under a rock or aren't obsessed with celebrity gossip like me, I will condense what happened for you. Kevin Spacey's sexual assault drama almost sunk the movie All the Money in the World. Ridley Scott decided to recast the role of J. Paul Getty and reshoot the few scenes that he was in. Michelle Williams did it for less than $1,000, while Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million. People were angry, and the internet went crazy about the injustice of it all. (As I was writing this, it broke that Wahlberg actually exercised a clause in his contract that gave him costar approval and he demanded the money.) And now Sarah Brown has brought the soap opera industry into it.

Some people will argue that she signed the contract and should have been happy with it. Those people are correct except we can't tell people how to feel. It's very exciting for a creative person to get paid for what they love to do. However, when you find out that you are making less money than your coworkers but are doing more work than they are, that's disheartening. Let's break down what Sarah was doing during this time. Her story was the most popular on the show at the time and arguably was the most popular in daytime. She was on the cover of Soap Opera Digest every other week. If that is an exaggeration, it's just barely one. So in between filming her many scenes, she was also being interviewed and photographed for the magazine (and others as there used to be a plethora of soap magazines) and learning her lines for the next episode. Not that the men she mentioned weren't doing the same thing; they were but at a much higher rate than what she was doing it.

Why didn't she say something back then? According to what she tweeted, she did and paid the price for it. "I have been speaking up for a long time and, "Paying the price," for it. I made $1,600.00 from my union in 2016 and had to sell my house, like Rose, to fight the monsters. They are monsters, corrupt from top 2 bottom. & my hell started from speaking up." Now to be fair, the executives in charge of the General Hospital now are not the ones who were in charge of it when Sarah Brown was on the show. But it's an interesting topic because it makes you wonder if Laura Wright, the actress who now plays Carly, is making less than half of what Maurice Bernard makes. While Bernard has been on the show for nearly 30 years, and Wright only 13, both are longtime veterans (30+ years) of the industry. That's an important note to make because that is the standard that is used by the unions to set minimums for actors.

What happens now that one of the long-held secrets of soaps has been unleashed? Carolyn Hinsey in her book said that soaps have an unwritten rule that everyone is protected and nobody outside of the bubble ever hears about the going ons. Now that the bubble has been burst, will the producers be forced to look at how they do business or will the shows go on as they did before with no significant change? Stay tuned for the continuing adventures of the wage gap soap opera. 

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The Wage Gap Soap Opera
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