As any network will tell you, crime dramas are almost guaranteed money-makers. Between the mystifying felonies and a lovable gang of ragtag good guys who always solve the case, usually in some dramatic way and with some property damage, these series have a tendency to be renewed year after year with ease. Having wrapped up its seventh season, Hawaii Five-O was on track to follow in this unspoken legacy of privilege, at least until pay negotiations began.
It appears that the well-known TV series will be losing actors Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, who have been with the show since its initial broadcast in 2010, after pay negotiations with CBS took a sour turn. Executive Producer, Peter Lenkov, attempt to vindicate their departures as an inevitable complication for any long-running series – after all, even the most dedicated actors can feel the need to move on to different projects after a few years have gone by. However, as Kim detailed in a Facebook post, it seems the heart of this break-up lay in the indefensible pay discrepancies between the two Asian-American actors and their white co-stars, Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan.
Though Kim and Park are technically supporting cast members and not the leads, which is really just another example of poor judgement on the part of the showrunners, raising the salaries of long-serving actors who become series regulars is a standard practice. While Lenkov claims that the studio was being astonishingly generous to Kim and Park by offering them “unprecedented raises,” their final offers were reportedly still ten to fifteen percent lower than O’Loughlin and Caan – meaning that the only two main Asian actors in the series were being paid far less than their white counterparts to begin with.
It’s worth remembering that the entire premise of Hawaii Five-O is a modern reboot of the classic crime drama that aired in 1968 and ran for ten years. Although, instead of featuring exclusively white heroes and yellowface casting, this show was meant to update the beloved narrative of crime-fighters in paradise by creating a meaningful connection to the ethnic community it served. In a state where at least 57% of the population claim some Asian heritage, having Kim and Park as part of the crusading crew gave the show an alliance to the Hawaiian community, and a legitimacy, that the original lacked. Especially since Kim’s character, Chin Ho Kelly, speaks the Hawaiian language. Hence, if anything these two actors were always more crucial to the show than their white counterparts, and their salaries should have reflected this actuality from the start.
Of course, CBS Entertainment Chief, Glenn Geller, publicly promised last August, the network has to make more of an effort to incorporate diverse casting and stories into its programming. That being said, it’s unfortunate that when the time came to put their money where their mouth is the studio chose to perpetuate this classic racial hierarchy and deny two of their prime actors the pay they more than deserved. Moreover, fans are wondering why Loughlin and Caan made no efforts to band together with their coworkers, whom they have worked with for the past seven years, and demand that they be treated fairly – much like the casts of Friends and The Big Bang Theory famously and successfully did before them.
Sadly, despite this malpractice the show will go on as it’s currently renewed to its tenth season, but without Kim and Park they will begin season 8 of this program with no significant actors of color as series regulars. By today’s standards, setting a TV series in an ethnic community with no real representation or appreciation of that culture is a dangerous move. Even if the studio continues to push the show forward fans have already promised to drop the usually high-rated program from their roster, now that they seem to be turning it back to its racially insensitive roots.
In truth, it’s incredibly disheartening to realize that we have made so little progress toward equality after so many years. Yet, as Kim demonstrated with his online post, “the path to equality is never easy” or short for that matter, but by exiting this stable position and sharing the details of this mistreatment he certainly took a step forward for every minority actor. As viewers, the only real power we can hold over this situation is by refusing to support the networks and shows that practice such inequality.