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This article was inspired by a series of tweets by actress Kiersey Clemons on April 18th. You may know Clemons for Dope, Neighbors 2, Extant season 2, and a slew of others things.
To start off, her venting began due to the unequal pay between women of color and white women. For, as has been a problem for years, white women are the standard for inequality. Something which I’m not going to dig into because that is not my lane. But one of the many points Ms. Clemons was trying to make is that pay isn’t determined by talent as much by followers. Heck, she even notes that most actors 1 don’t have social media platforms like Instagram. Especially those who are white male actors.
Leading to the topic at hand: How social media probably hurts actresses more than helps them.
In what I believe was a Breakfast Club interview, an actor cited Denzel Washington’s warning about being overexposed. The idea was, and I’m paraphrasing here, the more you are seen, the less value you had.
Think of it this way, until Dave Chappelle’s recent Netflix specials (Deep in the Heart of Texas & Age of Spin) he wasn’t that accessible. Unlike many comedians, he didn’t have a social media presence. He did flirt with Twitter, but he hasn’t touched his profile since March of 2012. Thus making it when he had two specials, back to back, even if they were years old, it was a big to do.
But let’s look at things from the opposite end. Let’s take, for example, Chappelle’s peer Kevin Hart. No matter what the platform, be it Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat, Kevin Hart is live and consistent. Yet, this has barely, if at all, affected his career.
Since, arguably, 2013, he has starred in at least two major movies a year 2. If you look at the box office receipts, all of them made their budget back and then some. But, I would say he is more of an exception than part of a rule.
Probably leading you to wonder, why am I talking about actors when this is supposed to be focused on actresses? Well, there is the thing, what actress has the ability to do what Chappelle or Hart does? What actress, even female comic, do you know that can disappear like Chappelle did and return with such fanfare? What actress, do you know, that is on Kevin Hart’s level? I present to you: Melissa McCarthy. Yeah, outside of her, can you name another actress who stars in wide-releases and can be considered overexposed? Comment below if you can.
But why is it McCarthy is one of the few which can quickly be thought of? Well, it could be one of the main downfalls of being highly active on social media. Something which is plaguing many young and up-and-coming actresses: Preconceived notions.
Part of what inspired this article was trying to cover Famous in Love season 1. For, as noted many times, I enjoy FreeForm. I think their casting agents are shallow as hell, but that issue is noted below. What matters here is Bella Thorne. Someone I only single out because she was the lead of that show for reasons I can’t strongly fathom. Well, outside of one of the points Clemmons was trying to make. For, you see, like many a young actress, Thorne is very open and presents an almost voyeuristic and vapid view into her life. For example, she lets you watch as she has her first bikini wax and presents the type of accessibility expected of young actresses. Something similar, in a way, to how accessible the Kardashian clan is.
Which, on the topic of the Kardashians, let’s talk about them real quick. The whole Kardashian clan are probably one of the most famous families in media. However, because they are so overexposed, no one really gives any of them, even Kim, props. I mean, let’s take note of Kim. She turned an ex-boyfriend releasing and profiting off of a private sex tape into an empire. One in which she not only makes more money than him now but also probably more than her husband.
Then, on top of that, she was able to make it so her whole family had the opportunity to become independent. I mean, some would argue the two Jenner girls are as big, if not bigger, than Kim at this point. Yet, despite probably one of the most functional families, to me, they have a horrible reputation. Or rather, the preconceived notions about all these girls are that they are whores, idiots, and the like. Which, being that I am not a fan, nor pay them much mind, I don’t get. I mean, maybe I’m wrong, but considering Kim’s comeback story, I fail to understand the perception. Now, granted, these women were privileged and rich and I get how that is a mark against anyone. However, let’s take note that they are taking advantage of a culture which allows people to sell a lifestyle. Perhaps, in many ways, to be a product. But rather than be trapped in that life in order to get what they really want, it seems these women are where they want to be.
Circling back to Thorne, but maintaining that Kardashian connection, what you get is what seems like a nice girl. She presents herself as fun and probably would make an excellent best friend or partner. However, like a Kardashian, even if you know her story, arguably her daily accessibility taints her potential. On top of that, for actresses like her, and Kim 3, because their abilities don’t outweigh how being sexualized keeps them relevant, it makes it so their social media output eclipse any and all potential.
Making it where your perception may default to them just being another pretty girl vs. a serious actress. And when I say “serious actress” I don’t just mean in a Viola Davis, “Feel my misery!” type of way. What I mean is someone who is truly able to get past the superficial with you. Someone who has the ability to make you laugh, cry, and relate in a genuine way.
A Daily Advertisement for a Human Product
Backtracking on that “to be a product” statement, ever since watching Dreamgirls and hearing “You make her sound like a product” something clicked. For with that, I came to the realization that is what actresses have come to be. They sell lifestyles, makeup, and dresses you can’t afford. They have become the foundation of the American dream while often living the American nightmare. These girls are rich, have huge amounts of opportunities, yet they have their own form of big brother watching their every move. There is a constant barrage of people waiting for them to slip up, to critique them, and even catch pictures of nip slips, panty shots, and more.
I mean, there are literally websites and forums dedicated to this. Heck, every time there is a “Fappening” do you hear about men at all? No. Women are the ones whose nude pictures are circulated, thanks to social media and even the news! Leading you to hear what? “She should have never taken the picture!” “What a skank” and etc. All of which is problematic but leads another issue: How can you have autonomy in an industry which expects you to always be selling? Of which, one of the things you are expected to sell is sex appeal.
Hence why the first question on the red carpet is “What are you wearing?” It isn’t usually about the film they spent weeks or months of their lives working on. It is about whose lifestyle brand are you selling today? Gucci? Louis Vuitton? Heck, even when it comes to sit down interviews, what is dove into is the woman’s personal life. As if, because she is supposed to be America’s sweetheart, we all get to be her watchful brother or nosey sister. There is this weird unspoken demand of access and yet, tell too much and you get shunned.
If I recall right, it is something you’ll hear people like Selena Gomez talk about. This idea that you have to be everything to everyone, including a role model. Thus really stripping you of your humanity for if you aren’t a mannequin to put clothes on, you are being some kid’s inspiration. So God forbid you have a bad day, feel and are bloated, or anything like that. For now, you aren’t this beacon of perfection. You aren’t this edited and photoshopped girl sold to the masses often for the least amount the studio can haggle for.
But oh! When it isn’t a bad day but a series of terrible events. In those moments, that is when social media doesn’t become a way to connect with fans at all. It instead becomes a reason to be scared. Especially since social media is part of the 24-hour news cycle. So once one website or broadcast catches on, prepare for everyone to know your mistake(s).
Yet, there remains one question. The question which led to the start of the article:
“How Many Followers Do You Have?”
Coming full circle, we end where we began. Clemons said:
Our pay, (as women) are determined not by talent but followers. [...] Actresses are "bought" based on the reliance of good looks. I.e how sexy they are, best selfies etc.
We, unfortunately, live in an age where follower count determines how many 0s will be in your paycheck or if you are even worth talking about, much less too. Now, in some cases, we have seen having a lot of followers become a good thing. Issa Rae is a prime example for her followers allowed her to eventually make Insecure. However, like how actors get dismayed because musicians and models come into their realm, now they have to compete with people who have a huge amount of followers. Sort of like how comedians have to deal with YouTube stars with one or two viral videos under their belt.
But really, beauty over talent and skill is a problem in all industries. Even in your daily life, this is perhaps a problem. However, for those in acting, it is a real deterrent but especially if you are an actress. I mean, right now, think of how many actresses, who get lead roles, are not some form of a Eurocentric standard of beauty. There aren’t that many. Especially on mainstream television and in movies.
Yet, look at how many actresses, whether one hit wonders or they were able to milk their sexual appeal for years, went from one flop to another. Think of how many who, yeah, they may have millions of followers, but the stuff they put out, outside of ads for makeup or weight losing formulas, just seemingly doesn’t appeal to anyone. All you see is “Flopped at the box office” and “Cancelled” when it comes to their names. Why is it they are given so many chances? Does the industry not know that followers mean nothing?
I mean, look at YouTube Red. While Google, like many companies, doesn’t want their subscriber numbers to be public and factual, as of November 2016, according to the Verge, they had 1.5 million people paying and 1 million on a trial. This is coming from the platform where anything that goes viral, they are likely the host of it. This is the platform where the Issa Raes are discovered, the Fine Brothers, and so many more. Yet, they can’t turn something which is free and monetize it.
You know why? Because followers don’t mean a thing really once you start asking for money. The most a company can expect from millions of followers is ad revenue, free marketing, but not each and every person being willing to buy something. Many of us may be loyal, but the main reason we like this channel or that page is because the content is essentially free. Minus, of course, what you pay for electricity, internet, and maintaining your device(s).
But the point is, most of the popularity people have on a social media platform isn’t because of their talent. It is thanks to outrageous vlogs, like you can find with David Dobrik, risqué pictures, or just plain free entertainment. All of which, I can say with some certainty, if you put a paywall in front of their content they would make money. However, all those people who were getting stuff for free, they wouldn’t all be opening their wallets. Hence why pirating is so popular.
Fully recognizing this probably seems like a rant at this point, what I’m overall trying to say is that social media has little to no benefits for actresses. From the get go they are treated as products. They are often put on this pedestal that is as stable as a Jenga tower. And just like that game, there is always someone trying to take away a piece and waiting to see if they fall. Of which, when or if they do, there is no quick recovery.
Let their nudes get exposed or something that can be weaponized against them get out. Even after the 24-hour news cycle is done with them, that moment lives forever. It is something referenced and asked about, if not thrown at them whenever they dare not be some sort of Hollywood darling. Alongside that, it becomes a running joke for lazy comedians.
And while, yes, you may see this glamorous lifestyle, remember that accessibility is mostly to remain relevant. If they don’t have millions of followers, for some reason their value decreases. Especially up and coming actresses like Clemons. So while they may be well trained, have tons of experience, and actually, have talent, their checks don’t show it. The opportunities given don’t show it and, just like you, when there isn’t opportunity or you feel undervalued, what do you do? Some of you may say “Persevere” but others will surely say “Move on.”
But, in the long term, think about what that does to the industry. You hate reality shows now? Imagine when those who can barely pull off a storyline based on their personality are hired to be fictional or historic people. Imagine it increasingly being that just because of your genes, or wallet, made your lips just full enough, your pants fit just right, and your blouse with just enough cleavage, that is what you compete against. That is what determines who gets the role and it is all because of some people who gaggle over them. Not even people who can be relied on to become actual customers.
Also, keep in mind that acting is a profession which requires vulnerability. It is a profession which requires you to channel a person’s fears, hopes, personality, and yet you have to numb yourself once you step offset. For say you did make it, you were talented and got the job on merit. Now you have to deal with every single moment, in your personal life, being watched scrutinized. For all that one photographer or cell phone needs to record is one mistake, one slip up, you not overthinking one moment and it could be the end of you.
Now, maybe I took it a bit far, but that is what actresses go through and why it matters so much that an actress like Kiersey Clemons spoke about it. For, as Zora Neale Hurston is often quoted:“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” So here is hoping that, one day soon, actresses get the same benefits actors do. Be it same pay to the ability of privacy. For no one’s job should infect their personal life. Even if they are making millions doing so.
So, with all that said…