It can be tough to try to dive into the equal pay discussion with actors because they’re rich. We talked about the richest actors in Hollywood who have so much money they probably don’t have to work again. So it can be hard to talk about how female actors might be lagging behind, when we know they are paid far more than most people in the world. However, equal pay is something that is important to talk about no matter the pay scale or industry.
So is there a disparity in pay between actors and actresses in the first place, or is it a myth? The question comes up because this inequality is pretty much all over the workforce. In 2015, women were paid 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to Institute For Women’s Policy Research. So chances are the answer is yes. Thanks to the Sony hack, though, we know the truth.
The hack revealed an email from Andrew Gumpert, president of business affairs and administration for Columbia Pictures, talking about backend compensation, or “points,” among the cast of American Hustle. “Got a steve warren/gretchen rush call that it’s unfair the male actors get 9% in the pool and jennifer is only at 7pts,” wrote Grumpert. “You may recall Jennifer was at 5 (amy was and is at 7) and WE anted in 2 extra points for Jennifer to get her up to 7. If anyone needs to top jennifer up it’s megan. BUT I think amy and Jennifer are tied so upping JL, ups AA.” He finally lays it out plainly, “The current talent deals are: O’Russell: 9%; Cooper: 9%; Bale: 9%; Renner: 9%; Lawrence: 7%; Adams: 7%.”
At this point, Lawrence had won her first Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook, a film in which she played the love interest of Bradley Cooper, who didn’t win an Oscar. She is also arguably one of the bigger names in the lineup due to her role in The Hunger Games saga, yet she is at the bottom of the pay scale. When they talk about increasing it, then they only think about how that would affect the only other woman in the conversation. Still not sold?
Even if you’re not a fan of The X-Files, you’ll know there are two people who headline the show. Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny play FBI agents who investigate cases together. Although they are both equally important to the story, Anderson was offered half of Duchovny’s salary when the show started. She had to fight to get equal pay, but when the show came back in 2016 she had to do it all over again.
“Even in interviews,” Anderson said, according to The Daily Beast, “in the last few years, people have said to me, ‘I can’t believe that happened, how did you feel about it, that is insane.’ And my response always was, ‘That was then, this is now.’ And then it happened again! I don’t even know what to say about it.”
Equal pay is so rare that Scarlett Johansson made headlines for actually being paid equally to majority of actors in The Avengers. She along with Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth were paid the same in both films from the series. But that still doesn’t mean her character, Black Widow, is treated equally. Her character has yet to get her own film unlike most of the cast — so she is still missing out on money. She is also not present on a lot of the merchandise for the series, which could mean she is missing out on a percentage of that as well. So really paying Johansson the same if not more than her male counterparts is the least they could do to make up for that.
So where is this inequality coming from? We could say that the big problem is that women don’t negotiate. However, multiple experiments have shown that men and women penalize women more than men for negotiating due the perception that women should be nice and not demanding. This industry operates in a society that generally values women and their work less.
Shorting women in offers and negotiations isn’t the only way Hollywood keeps women on the lower end of the pay scale. It also systematically ends their careers early. Only one third of speaking roles in films went to women in 2015, leaving them at a disadvantage to negotiate. Then there is the whole problem of aging.
Once a woman makes it out of her 20s, her roles start dwindling. This is because parts are given to young women no matter the age of the character. Jennifer Lawrence, who is only 25, is consistently playing love interests with older actors like Bradley Copper, who is 41. She also plays older women who are mothers and businesswomen. Maggie Gyllenhaal was notably told she was too old at 37 to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man.
When women age, their roles start narrowing, and once again they lose out on money and recognition unlike their male counterparts. So to answer the question if there is an equal pay problem in Hollywood: yes, definitely. The solution to the problem is that Hollywood needs to stop valuing actresses solely on their looks, give them meatier roles, and treat those roles equally to male roles. Perhaps this won’t be done until there are more women behind the scenes making more films and casting decisions. But the open discussion about it is certainly making it harder for Hollywood to ignore its sexism problem.