This article looks at the ‘equal pay’ debate in the film industry and discusses whether sexism is the sole reason for ‘unfair’ pay discrepancies. Read here.
Gender debate and, particularly, the debate for the equal pay, has been intensifying in the last few years. Gender pay gap exists and is not a fictional fairytale of the lands far far away. More so, it can take 118 years or more before women around the world can expect equal pay.
At this year’s Cannes Film festival, Salma Hayek became the latest actress to voice her stance about the heating gender debate, arguing that male movie stars would have to take pay cuts if they were serious about equal pay for women. She called for highly paid males to make sacrifices and take cuts in their pay.
It is easy to agree with the sentiment that everyone has to be involved to make equal pay a reality. It is no longer enough to demand the movie industry, particularly movie studios, directors, producers etc. to provide equal pay. It is important that everyone involved in the industry shows intentions for the gender pay gap to be reduced and abolished. This includes male actors showing solidarity with female colleagues with practical and tangible decisions. There has to be a sense of impatience and intolerance to achieve the equal pay.
Last year, it was reported that ‘Big Bang Theory’ Stars took surprising pay cuts to increase the salaries of their female co-stars, a move that was widely welcomed and celebrated. However, such measures do not solve or address the key problem. Ashley Louise, a co-founder of Ladies Get Paid, a career development organization, has said that ‘pay equity is not only a question of dollars and cents — it’s also a question of value’. In a subjective industry, like entertainment, pay is often seen as subjective, depending on the actor’s/actress’s fame, popularity, marketability, status etc. It is difficult to confidently state how much each actor/actress should earn as pay often differs between films and actors/actresses.
For example, Jennifer Lawrence was paid $8m more than her co-star Chris Pratt for Passengers, despite having less screen time. But looking at and comparing their careers, achievements and popularity it is difficult to argue why Jennifer Lawrence shouldn’t be paid more. The point here to be made is that there has to be an element of reality attached to the ‘equal pay’ debate. There has been a cultural and systemic discrimination and undervaluation of female staff (including actresses and production employees) that resulted in huge pay gaps, (sexual) abuse and unfair treatment of female staff in the industry.
However, we must understand and evaluate each case on its individual merits. Some actors are worth more, regardless of their gender and sexuality, and will be paid more. Sometimes it is not sexism or sexist attitudes that decide who gets paid more but the fame, popularity and prestige of each actor and actress. The case of Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams of “For All The Money In The World” is appropriate here. Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million to reshoot the scenes while his co-star, Michelle Williams, received less than $1,000 for the same work. The discrepancy between the figures is appalling. Following social media outrage, Wahlberg donated the money to the ‘Time’s Up’ legal defense fund, which was a clever PR move, but didn’t bring anything of value in the demand for fair pay. Regardless, Mark Wahlberg was right in demanding a fee for reshooting the scenes and because of his popularity and name, he earned more than his co-star. It is difficult to argue that it was because of sexism that his compensation was greater, but having said that, Michelle Williams should have been paid more than a pittance she received. It is also shocking to learn that both stars share the same agency, which failed to secure appropriate financial deals for both of its clients. Perhaps, Michelle Williams (whose net worth is $16 million) should not have been paid as much as Mark Wahlberg (whose net worth is $225 million), but she should have definitely been paid more than the insulting amount she received.
Ariane Hegewisch, study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research also added: “I don’t think we would say that men’s salaries have to come down to equalize“, in an argument that perhaps men should not be penalized for flawed industry-wide (and not just entertainment wide) policies. Payment cuts can create resentment amongst employees that further retract the focus at the heart of this debate: gender equality. There are other ways to close the pay gap that doesn’t involve anyone losing out, including freezing male employee wages and bonuses, until the female wages are brought up to the same level; increasing the bonuses of female employees disproportionately to their male colleagues until the equal pay is achieved etc. Forcing male actors to slash their pay is not the solution, but helping and showing support/demand that female actresses should be paid accordingly is.
Entertainment industry, especially film industry, is a subjective industry, where pay is decided by experience, prestige, popularity and fame, not necessarily talent and not always by gender. It is a fact that female members of the entertainment industry have long been discriminated and abused. The ‘equal pay’ debate is long over-due, but we have to make sure it is achieved through the most optimal means.