Angelica Ross went from one FX series to another when she left “Pose” for “American Horror Story,” and made history as the first female transgender actress to land two series regular roles.
During TheWrap’s 2021 Power Women Summit, Ross explained why she initially said “no” to joining “AHS,” and, even more importantly, how it let her know just how much, ahem, power she really had in the industry.
“I actually turned down the offer initially, and that’s when I knew that I was in a position to say like, I’m okay — if I’m okay waiting for exactly the right moment or exactly the right thing,” Ross said on a panel with other top actresses.
Ross added that not only was she doing what her male peers have done for years — make studios pay what they are worth — but she felt an obligation to the trans community as well.
“I know that it’s really hard for women, especially Black women, especially Black trans women to communicate the value that I think that I deserve in this contract or for this role,” she said. “But for me as a Black trans woman, I’m just speaking from that space, to say ‘no’ is when I feel like I made it, when I’m able to say ‘no’ and feel comfortable in that.”
Ross was joined on the panel titled “Women Who Lead” by fellow actresses Lily Rabe, Alexandra Daddario, Regina Hall, Karen Pittman, Ritu Arya, and moderator Alysia Reiner.
Rabe, who appeared with Ross on the tenth season of “AHS,” shared an experience from her past that crystalized her co-star’s point.
“I was in my twenties and I was doing a show and I was the lead of the show. There were two colleagues that were both men,” Rabe said. When she and her representative (who she did not name) were trying to figure out her salary, she asked what she thought was a very fair question. “I had been doing theater. I made enough money to pay for my rent-stabilized apartment, so any amount of TV money felt like so much money to me at the time. But I remember saying casually like, ‘I don’t know, what are the guys making? Is it similar?’ And she said, ‘You shouldn’t even think about that because they’re men.'”
Rabe, who is now 39 years old, says she wants to go back and “try to forgive my 23 year old self for how quickly I went right under a rock and apologized for even asking the question.”
Hall, who is coming off her role in Hulu’s “Nine Perfect Strangers” and starred in the “Think Like a Man” films and “Girls Trip,” added to the chorus. “You have to be OK with losing [the role] to really discover your worth.”
She added that in every actress’ career there’s a point where you should be able to go from just taking jobs to “build the resume,” to being more discerning. “Your first pass and your first ‘no’ is when you start to really recognize your worth. Because it’s always scary the first time, especially if you want the part,” she said.
Pittman, who has appeared in “The Morning Show,” “Evil” and the upcoming “Sex and the City” sequel series “And Just Like That,” said that Black and trans women need to get past just “being so grateful” for jobs and demand transparency in terms pay.
“Women of color are steeped in the tradition of marginalization, of just being so grateful, specifically trans women, that they have been given the opportunity to even express themselves. So sitting in your power means knowing that not only do you deserve that space, but you also are worthy of being paid that money,” she said. “One of the ways I battled it as an actress is just ask for transparency, to be transparent about what I’m making and to link up arms with the people around me, who I think can make a difference if that’s other actors or actresses, or people at the studios or in the production that are interested in not just equity on camera or behind the camera, but Black Lives Matter, meaning black paychecks matter.”
“White Lotus” star Daddario backed up Hall’s point.
“There’s a compromise you make where you say, who am I to turn this kind of money down? This would be great for me, but you also, on the flip side of fighting for what you deserve to be paid for the projects you do want to do, have to be able to say no to the things that you feel in your gut aren’t right,” she said. “It’s a difficult line to walk.
For more of the discussion, you can watch the full panel here.
The Power Women Summit is the largest annual gathering of the most influential women in entertainment, media and technology. The event aims to inspire and empower women across the landscape of their professional careers and personal lives. This year’s PWS provides three days of education, mentorship, workshops and networking around the globe – to promote this year’s theme, “Represent.”