Opinion

"Why do I make less than male co-stars?" – Hollywood's elite on gender pay gap

16 min read

14 October 2015

In an article on Lena Dunham's new site Lenny, actress Jennifer Lawrence has said she is done trying to find the "adorable" way to state her opinion on the gender pay gap – and she's not the only one.

Leaked emails between Sony executives revealed that Lawrence was originally set to receive five per cent of box office takings, while Amy Adams would receive seven. All the male actors – Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and Christian Bale – were to receive nine per cent.

When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with d**ks, I didn’t get mad at Sony,” Lawrence wrote in a Lenny newsletter. “I got mad at myself.”

Although Lawrence does not cite the American Hustle title in her essay, it is obviously clear which movie she is referring to. She mentioned that her male co-stars “all fought and succeeded in negotiating powerful deals for themselves,” while she failed as a negotiator because she gave up early.

She said: “I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight. I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled’. At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realised every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being perceived as such. I’m sure they were commended for being fierce and tactical.

“This could be a young-person thing. It could be a personality thing. I’m sure it’s both. But this is an element of my personality that I’ve been working against for years, and based on the statistics, I don’t think I’m the only woman with this issue. Are we socially conditioned to behave this way? We’ve only been able to vote for what, 90 years? Could there still be a lingering habit of trying to express our opinions in a certain way that doesn’t ‘offend’ or ‘scare’ men?”

Read more about the gender pay gap:

She claimed that she was done trying to find the “adorable” way to state her opinion and still be likeable. Lawrence also referred to a leaked email where Sony executives called Angelina Jolie a “spoiled brat” – something Lawrence couldn’t picture someone saying about a man.

This was also echoed by Sandra Bullock, who said: “I never knew that there were limitations where I was looked at as less than until I was actually pretty deep in this business. I had a pretty unsettling moment, and I went ‘Oh my God, I’m being treated this way because I’m female’. I grew up to be exactly who I was supposed to be and have the opinions I wanted to have and didn’t think there were limitations to that. So I thought, politically, I was pretty open minded and could speak my mind and then I saw I wasn’t supposed to.”

Lawrence received much support from Cooper. In an E! News interview he claimed that if someone thought they deserved better pay, then it was all about sticking up for yourself the way that Sienna Miller did. The British actress had actually backed out of a play because she was being paid half the amount of her male co-star.

When it comes to taking action like Miller, Charlize Theron may not have walked out on a project, but she demanded equal pay to Chris Hemsworth for having done Snow White and the Huntsman. And she got it! 

Of course, she was in a solid negotiating position given that The Huntsman – a prequel to Snow White and the Huntsman – couldn’t have gone on without her. However, Theron’s acting credentials should have easily justified a higher salary. 

I have to give them credit because once I asked, they said yes,” she said. “They did not fight it. And maybe that’s the message: that we just need to put our foot down. This is a good time for us to bring this to a place of fairness, and girls need to know that being a feminist is a good thing. It doesn’t mean that you hate men. It means equal rights. If you’re doing the same job, you should be compensated and treated in the same way.

“When I found out what Lawrence and Adams were being paid on a set with guy actors who are their counterparts, it pissed me off! They’re just as good as any of the guys in the movie.”

But Lawrence and Theron are not the only actresses to have openly discussed the pay differences between the sexes. Gwyneth Paltrow told Variety, “It can be painful. Your salary is a way to quantify what you’re worth. If men are being paid a lot more for doing the same thing, it feels shi**y.”

She played Pepper Potts in the Iron Man films, alongside Robert Downey Jr, and although she claimed that his role was more crucial than hers, she wasn’t comfortable with the discrepancy between their remunerations.

“Look, nobody is worth the money that Robert Downey Jr is worth,” she said, “but if I told you the disparity, you would probably be surprised.”

Paltrow is the 12th highest-paid actress in the world, earning $9m (£5.85m), while Downey Jr – the highest-paid actor – made $80m (£52.02m). In comparison, Lawrence, who was the highest-paid actress, made $52m (£33.81m).

And then there’s Ted 2’s Amanda Seyfried, who revealed that on an unnamed film she earned just ten per cent of what her male co-star received.

She said: “A few years ago, on one of my big-budget films, I found I was being paid ten per cent of what my male co-star was getting, and we were pretty even in status. I think people think that just because I’m easy-going and game to do things I’ll just take as little as they offer.” 

Seyfried added that female actors in Hollywood “have to decide if [they’re] willing to walk away from something”.

The actress claimed that before each role, she would weigh up what it’ll do for both her reputation and her career long-term. If it doesn’t fit with her plan then she’s not afraid to turn it down.

“It’s not about how much you get, it’s about how fair it is,” she said.

Read on to find out the opinions of Anne Hathaway, Natalie Portman, Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep.

Even Meryl Streep – one of Hollywood’s most successful actors – receives less pay. During a BBC interview she said: “That [Oscar nomination] doesn’t matter. They will point to the box office, even though Mama Mia has made over a billion dollars, and say that women films don’t sell. I will say it has to do with how films are financed – in the ten top buyers in the US for films in every territory there is not one woman.”

Streep added that if the people that choose what goes into the multiplexes are all of one persuasion, then choice will be limited and it will create a self-fulfilling prophecy

The interview also highlighted that she thought it was harder for men to relate to a female protagonist in films. She said: “I’m not sure why that is. It’s easy for us to imagine ourselves as Tom Sawer, Huckleberry Finn or Peter Pan – I don’t want to be Wendy and I sure don’t want to be Tink. Reading literature as a kid, I’ve always imagined myself as the one that drove the action. It’s much much harder for a man to imagine himself as a woman.”

This was echoed by Emily Blunt in an interview with IndieWire. After appearing in Edge of Tomorrow, Blunt’s name popped up as a candidate for Marvel’s first solo female superhero film, Captain Marvel. Although Blunt suggested that she hadn’t received a formal offer for the part, she did have an idea why her name was being attached to it.

“I think it’s because the list of possible actresses is very short as we don’t see women in these kind of roles,” she said. “As soon as you do an action role rumours circulate – there are maybe four women who keep going for those kind of roles. In the end, they’re like ‘who else? Surely not another girl can wield a gun.'”

Blunt name-checked Theron, Lawrence and Jolie as women who are often attached to female action hero roles, and added that there was such a gender difference because there were more opportunities for men to play not only the hero, but an interesting and distinctive character to boot.

This lack of intriguing roles could be one of the culprits making it harder for men to relate to women.

Meanwhile, despite Emma Watson’s #HeForShe campaign being founded to encourage equality in the workplace, she has discussed her own experiences too. She told The Guardian: “I have been directed by male directors 17 times and only twice by women. I think my work with the UN has probably made me even more aware of the problems. I went out for a work dinner recently. It was seven men… and me.” 

Watson suggested that she had been lucky in the fact that when she insisted on being treated equally, she won that equality. Most of her problems, she said, have stemmed from the media, where she had been treated differently from her male co-stars.

Her initiative is not a female-only organisation, however, and she’s quick to note that the blame for continuing inequality does not lay at the door of either gender alone.

“Women are just as guilty of discriminating against women,” Watson said. “Some of the best feminists I have encountered are men, like Steve Chbosky who directed me in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and director James Ponsoldt, who I am working with at the moment for The Circle. Some women can be incredibly prejudiced against other women!”

Watch Watson’s amazing speech to men, which emphasises that many of the problems faced by women impact men as well.

However, Natalie Portman is of the belief that young actresses like Lawrence and Kristen Stewart are lessening the outrageous pay gaps in Hollywood.

In an interview with Marie Claire, Portman claimed that while Titanic was a huge hit, Leonardo DiCaprio’s wage immediately went to $20m (£12.6m) per movie, while Kate Winslet’s fell unbelievably short of that amount. 

“But that feels totally like it’s changing,” she said. “I don’t even know who the guys are who are the same age as Lawrence and Stewart.”

Actress Anne Hathaway suggested the same thing during a recent interview – after it was revealed that she has had to start producing films in order to ensure that, in her 30s, she gets to tackle parts of the industry that interest her.

“I think my slate would be a lot more empty if I wasn’t producing,” she said. “The whole industry is a bit embarrassed by the state of things when you look at the numbers.”

But Hathaway, much like Portman, said changes were coming: “I see steps being taken every day – I’ve started producing and whenever we are trying to find a director for it someone will also ask: ‘Where are the women on this list?’

“Sometimes you go a little deeper – maybe they don’t have a feature film yet, they only have a short film – but I think everyone is more aware and I think enough people are trying to make it better that the needle is moving.”

Hathaway suggested that it may take time to secure equal pay for all, but added that there were a lot of positive indicators and advocates involved in making it happen.

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