With September marking the 20th anniversary of Girlfriends and its honorary release on Netflix, fans have been nostalgically binge-watching one of the most beloved Black sitcoms of the early aughts. But just last week, one of the show’s stars, Reggie Hayes, added a dose of reality by discussing the 2008 end of the series, and the subsequent personal struggles that led him to live in his sister’s garage.
“I had starred on this long-running show but I wasn’t Matt LeBlanc or one of the other kids from ‘Friends’ who had doors opening for them after their show ended… Those were pretty awful years,” Hayes told The Chicago Tribune. (Meanwhile, in contrast this week, ex-Friends star Jennifer Anniston shared thoughts on her longtime acting career on the iHeartRadio's Smartless podcast, calling the entertainment biz her “happy place.”)
Hayes explained that, despite Girlfriends having been one season short of becoming the longest-running Black sitcom of all time, life for him was hard after it ended. He said in the years that followed, he could occasionally book guest roles, but that “it wasn’t really enough to get by,” explaining that even obtaining a day job presented challenges “because people come in and take pictures of you and put it on the internet.”
That’s what happened in 2018 to Geoffrey Owens, who had previously starred in The Cosby Show, when was job shamed by being photographed while working at Trader Joe’s. Fortunately, his situation was turned around when Tyler Perry offered Owens a job shortly after.
This story about the man who played William on “Girlfriends” really got me thinking about how many black folks are living on the margins even if they briefly make a breakthrough. https://t.co/YlaF6AfpEI
— Joel D. Anderson (@byjoelanderson) September 24, 2020
I think about this all the time. Sitcom actors and video vixens. Whenever I watch old videos I'm always like, "I wonder what she's doing now."
— Dion Rabouin 🇺🇸 (@DionRabouin) September 24, 2020
This stark contrast in outcomes for ex-TV stars — particularly Black vs. white — has not gone unnoticed, and people are taking to social media to call it out. In response to Hayes’ recent comments, one user wrote, “This broke me down to my components,” while another user Tweeted that it reminded him “about how many black folks are living on the margins even if they briefly make a breakthrough.”
Some have argued that the lack of longevity for Black entertainers is directly linked to bias in Hollywood. In June, Killing Eve star Sandra Oh, Avengers actor Anthony Mackie and former Scandal star Kerry Washington all called out the lack of diversity across the film and television industry. Mackie said, “It really bothered me that I’ve done seven Marvel movies where every producer, every director, every stunt person, every costume designer, every PA, every single person has been white.” That lack of diversity has prompted director Spike Lee to suggest that Hollywood adopt new regulations — similar to “the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview minority candidates for the league’s top jobs.”
Earlier this month, actor Jeremy Tardy tweeted that he would not return for season four of Dear White People, accusing Lionsgate of racial discrimination. “After being offered to return for several episodes my team was notified that our counter offer would not be considered and that the initial offer was the ‘best and final,'” he noted. “This news was disturbing because one of my white colleagues — being a true ally — revealed that they too had received the same initial offer and had successfully negotiated a counter offer.”
Unfortunately I will not be joining NETFLIX’s Dear White People for its fourth and final season
due to my experience with Lionsgate and their practices of racial discrimination.
After being offered to return for several episodes my team was notified that our counter offer would
— Jeremy Tardy (@Jeremy_Tardy) September 11, 2020
Also recently, Tia Mowry recalled a time, at the height of her Sister Sister’s popularity — when the show enjoyed even higher than Friends — when she and her twin, Tamera, were rejected by a popular teen magazine due to the color of their skin. "We were told that we couldn't be on the cover of the magazine because we were Black, and we would not sell,” shared for Entertainment Tonight’s Unfiltered series, admitting that "as an adult," it still hurts.
Hey @DavidSchwimmer @FriendsTV - r u seriously telling me you’ve never heard of #LivingSingle? We invented the template! Yr welcome bro. ;) David Schwimmer 2 The Guardian: “Maybe there should be an all-black Friends or an all-Asian Friends” https://t.co/r8W1ZHBwoy
— Erika Alexander (@EAlexTheGreat) January 28, 2020
Friends was an all-white reboot of Living Single. https://t.co/zno13ka3se
— Franklin Leonard (@franklinleonard) January 28, 2020
In 2018, former Living Single star Erika Alexander discussed how her sitcom actually inspired the creation of Friends, but never received the same treatment. “They both came from Warner Bros. We were on the ‘ranch lot’ and [Friends] was on the ‘big lot’ … We had nothing on that lot. We actually had no air conditioning. Our craft services table was basically rice with Tabasco sauce and Ritz crackers, but also what happened was the fact that we didn’t get the marketing … There were a lot of things that were in place to hold [us] down and make you not feel as valuable, but I’m sure if they looked and scaled, and looked at how much they made vs what they put in, I’m sure we’re on par if not way beyond what they made.”
Then there’s actress and comedian Mo’Nique Hicks, who got her start on TV with the 1999 hit sitcom The Parkers and, despite her 2010 Oscar win for Precious, claims she has since been blackballed and labeled as “difficult” — a characteristic often reserved for Black women who dare to challenge the status quo. Just last year, Hicks made headlines when she called out Netflix for “gender bias and color bias” after the network offered her $500,000 for a comedy special — which was less than Netflix reportedly paid Amy Schumer, Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock for their shows.
Indeed, according to a 2016 Variety investigation, the pay gap between white actors and those of color was stark; it’s widest for women of color, with a Hollywood Reporter piece noting, “Perceptions that ‘black projects’ don't play overseas, and Asian- and other minority-led projects don't perform domestically, contribute to lowballing.”
Hayes, in addition to facing financial hardships, now has congestive heart failure, and was recently admitted to the hospital with breathing difficulties related to the California wildfires.
“Here in L.A., the sky has been orange with smoke and it was just really terrible. So, I was in the hospital overnight, they were having trouble getting my blood pressure back down. Seems like the more they look, the more problems they find.,” he shared. “The good thing is, I don’t have the coronavirus.”
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