‘It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all’ declared Patricia Arquette in her Oscar acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress for Boyhood. By expressing this long overdue sentiment on a global platform, she brought this issue to the world’s attention. Unfortunately, this was over 3 years ago; why then is this problem still persistent in 2018?
On Tuesday 13th March, the producers of Netflix hit series The Crown revealed that leading actor Claire Foy was being paid less than her co-star Matt Smith. Expectedly, the Twitter world blew up in outrage over the revelation that the woman playing Queen Elizabeth II, the protagonist in the series, was being underpaid compared to a supporting actor playing Phillip. A Care2 Petition was launched in retaliation to this, stating ‘You know gender pay gaps are a problem when even the Queen isn’t paid fairly’. Furthermore, calls were made for Smith and Netflix to donate the difference in Smith’s pay to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund is an organization that provides subsidized legal support to those who have experienced sexual harassment, assault, or abuse in the workplace. It was an initiative launched in the wake of the #MeToo movement whose supporters include Cate Blanchett, Steven Spielberg and Emma Watson. The petition has received over 42,000 supporters since it’s launch and prompted a formal apology from the production company behind The Crown to Claire Foy and Matt Smith for allowing such a sexist pay gap to happen in the first place.
The gender pay gap seems to pervade Hollywood and the entertainment industry. In August 2017, The Telegraph published a breakdown of the 30 highest paid actors worldwide with estimated earnings between June 2016 to June 2017. This list featured only 10 women, with the highest earning woman, Emma Stone, being trumped by 14 male actors. Stone’s rough salary was around £20 million, Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson were the 2 highest earning actors, earning in excess of £45 million each. The women on the list seem to occupy the latter end of the list: this is reflective not only of the lack of higher salary acting work in Hollywood for women, but the flagrant difference in pay between men and women.
Following a revelatory series of Sony e-mail hacks in 2015, Jennifer Lawrence, the highest paid female actor in the world in 2015 and ’16, discovered she too suffered from this discrimination compared to her male colleagues. In response, Lawrence penned an open letter titled ‘Why do I Make Less Than My Male Co-Stars?’, that was posted on Lena Dunham’s blog on October 13th 2015. With the release of Passengers in 2016, the pay for Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt was disclosed by Sony with Lawrence rightly earning a considerable amount more than her male co-star for her role as the lead actor.
Producers openly disclosing actors’ salaries may reveal inequalities that need to be tackled, but it can also be problematic as actors who prefer privacy may be embarrassed, and others may criticize co-stars who they think aren’t earning their pay grade. The question, therefore, must surely be: what else must be done?
With allegations of sexual harassment and assault being heaped upon Kevin Spacey in 2017, Ridley Scott decided to re-cast his part in All the Money in The World. Re-casting this part after filming had wrapped required extensive re-shoots with multiple members of the cast. Anonymous sources later claimed that actor Michelle Williams was paid less than $1000 for the re-shoots whilst her co-star Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million for the same work. With this issue being brought into the public eye, Wahlberg, the highest paid actor in the world, consequently donated his entire paycheck for the re-shoots to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, a move supported by Williams. In addition to this, Wahlberg’s casting and talent agency William Morris Endeavor (WME) donated an additional $500,000 to Time’s Up.
It is refreshing to see an actor of Wahlberg’s status make such a positive move towards achieving equal pay for female actors. With major socio-political landmarks such as the worldwide Woman’s March and the #MeToo movement occurring over the last year, we now live in a landscape that demonstrates greater female solidarity than ever before in history. It may be long overdue, but with an issue with such longevity as the gender wage gap, no time seems more appropriate than now, to challenge those responsible and address these long overdue inequalities. Affirmative action from Wahlberg and the WME, through monetary contributions and institutions such as Time’s Up, anticipate a future wherein the playing field is levelled for actors within the industry. Further acts of allyship would be refreshing to be seen from the male actors who out-earn their female co-stars in the future. Perhaps to balance the gender pay gap we need further demonstrations of affirmative action from men who currently benefit from the system, using their positions of privilege to aid those who are systematically discriminated against. To the disappointment of many, Matt Smith is yet to comment or react to the news being uncovered of the pay gap in The Crown. One can only hope the online petition can yield positive results. In light of these recent developments and pressures placed upon producers to pay female actors equally, it seems like we are now making baby steps to an industry of equity. But we still have a long way to go.