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Strategy for Resolving Hollywood's Gender Pay Gap

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Society
Wordcount: 2877 words Published: 18th Nov 2021

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Despite years of effort to decrease the gender wage gap, a sizable wage gap continues to affect women in the United States. “Based on U.S. Census Bureau data, women in the United States earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man, amounting to an annual average gender wage gap of $10,194” (Roepe 4). Yet, if policies do not change, the 2018 World Economic Forum report predicted that it will take 208 years to obtain equal pay (Roepe 4). The gender pay gap affects all industries in varying pay grades, and unfortunately, Hollywood is no exception.

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Behind Hollywood’s glitz and glam is the gritty reality of underrepresented and underpaid women. According to a study conducted by the Lancaster University Management School, actresses make $1.1 million less than male actors of similar experience and gravitas (Sanchez). Recently, multiple big-name actresses have come forward to account their experience with the gender wage gap in Hollywood and advocate for a change in the industry. To close this gap, Hollywood should enact a policy through the Screen Actors Guild, or SAG-AFTRA, requiring executives and studios to institute pay transparency among all actors.

In a recent controversy that brought Hollywood’s gender wage gap to light, it was revealed that Mark Wahlberg made $1.5 million while his co-star Michelle Williams earned less than $1,000 during re-shoots for the 2017 film All the Money in the World. In addition, Wahlberg’s salary for the film was $5 million whereas Williams’ was only $650,000.

This initiated an outcry from the public and other actresses who were also shortchanged by studios. As a result, Wahlberg donated his $1.5 million to Time’s Up, an initiative by women in Hollywood against sexual harassment. But to add insult to injury, both actors are represented by the same agency, W. M. E. (Desta).

This affirms that Hollywood’s gender wage gap is not entirely based on merit and representation, but instead reputation. In the case of All the Money in the World, Wahlberg was used to bring audiences in, while Williams was pushed as Oscar bait as a four-time Oscar nominee (Desta), yet their salaries did not reflect this marketing ploy. The industry focuses on the reputation behind closed doors.

Male actors in Hollywood are usually reported to negotiate their salaries, Wahlberg notoriously being known as a “tough negotiator” (Desta), while female actors tend to accept their salaries in fear of being labeled the sexist, stereotypical term “diva” or “difficult,” which could result in a lack of job offers. However, this gap is not due simply because women are not standing their ground in negotiations, but the fact that studios are not giving women the desired amounts.

Through a pay transparency system, actors would be able to see their co-stars salaries, which would force studios to pay their actors and actresses equally. It would also be easier for actresses to negotiate without the fear of judgement. The willingness and openness in the industry to discuss money could lead to the solution of equal pay.

Just four years prior to the Wahlberg-Williams controversy, Jennifer Lawrence had a similar experience with Hollywood’s gender wage gap. In 2015, Lawrence was crowned the world’s highest-paid actress with an impressive total of $52 million (Berg). Yet, that number pales in comparison to that year’s highest-paid actor, Robert Downey Jr., who brought in $80 million (Berg).

This wage gap had become readily apparent to Lawrence in 2014 in wake of the Sony Pictures hack. Leaked emails revealed the confidential data that Lawrence and her co-star Amy Adams only received a seven percent cut, while their male co-stars Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, and Jeremy Renner made a nine percent cut of the 2013 film American Hustle’s profits (Berg). Based on award show bait and box office pull, Lawrence and Adams fell on par with their male counterparts, yet they made much less.

Lawrence spoke in an open letter about the findings and was a catalyst to the conversation by allowing other actresses to come forward with their stories. She wrote, “when the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people ... I didn't get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself” (Staff).

The consistent thread in Hollywood is the stereotype of meek women who would rather stay silent than fight for their worth. It is evident that Hollywood is the perpetrator due to various films that get produced without a strong female lead. Lawrence took the blame by saying “I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early.” Lastly, she added “I didn't want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’ That seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn't worry about being ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled’” (Staff).

Negotiations will either make or break an actor’s salary. To get rid of the wage gap, studios, such as Sony Pictures, should implement pay transparency so that both actors and actresses can see one another’s salaries and feel comfortable to negotiate a larger sum.

As a result of Lawrence's candid essay in 2015, many actresses stepped forward to support her and speak out about their own experiences. Gwyneth Paltrow agreed with Lawrence on the difficulty of standing up for one’s worth, “You were considered ungrateful, you were considered entitled, so I think it’s amazing that women now are saying ‘we’re going to talk about this. This isn’t fair’” (Staff).

Diane Keaton also spoke out that she “did not receive back-end pay for her star role in Something’s Gotta Give, while Jack Nicholson did” (Staff). Back-end pay is usually given after a film is released to award the “star-power” an actor had on the film. Similarly with Lawrence and Adams, Keaton was expected to receive a sum of back-end pay, but did not take precedence over her male co-star.

In a 2017 interview in Out Magazine with Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough & Billie Jean King on equality, Stone discusses her experience with equal pay as an actress:

“In my career so far, I’ve needed my male co-stars to take a pay cut so that I may have parity with them. And that’s something they do for me because they feel it’s what’s right and fair. That’s something that’s also not discussed, necessarily—that our getting equal pay is going to require people to selflessly say, 'That’s what’s fair.' If my male co-star, who has a higher quote than me but believes we are equal, takes a pay cut so that I can match him, that changes my quote in the future and changes my life”

(Out Magazine Editors).

This “quote” that she mentioned is the baseline pay to hire a certain actor. Male actors tend to have a higher quote due to the amount of franchises and block-buster hit films they get to star in, but with less opportunities, female actors usually have lower quotes that feed into the cycle of the wage gap. Thus, male actors must support their female co-stars by acknowledging the gap through the proposed pay transparency system to be able to negotiate and take a cut of the sum to achieve pay parity.

Additionally, actresses have taken their actions to award shows to speak out about the gender wage gap to the executives sitting in the room as well as the nation. Patricia Arquette stated that “it’s our time to have wage equality for once and for all” in her fiery, passionate Best Supporting Actress speech.

Reese Witherspoon started a call to action at the 2015 American Cinematheque Awards that “Women make up 50% of the population, and we should be playing 50% of the roles on the screen” (Staff).

If women can be represented more, then the problem of the gender wage gap within all aspects of the film industry can be diminished. Even the queen of cinema, Meryl Streep, said that she struggled with getting paid less than her male co-stars (Staff). The echo of these women’s sentiments and struggles will persist until equal pay is achieved.

Yet, the misrepresentation of women on and off the silver screen is hard to ignore.  “According to a 2016 study, women comprise just 28.7% of all speaking roles in movies and few of those parts go to women of color” (Robehmed). Also, data from Hollywood’s top 100 grossing films of 2019 shows that women represented 12% of directors, 20% of writers, 26% of producers, 19% of executive producers, 2% of cinematographers, and 23% of editors (Lauzen 1).

The lack of representation is alarming, but, “Hollywood pacts are determined by a combination of leverage and precedent in a system where industry wide assumptions have long benefitted white men” (Rose). Thus, hiring more women, especially women of color, as directors, writers, producers, and so on will cause a shift in the industry to inclusivity and equality. When more women are behind the scenes, they can ensure that their actresses are being heard and paid what they deserve. Actress America Ferrera weighed in on her opinion about representation in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter:

“The entire system is built to keep [women] from asking for more. I feel like most of the time that I have had to ask for something, I had to convince my agents to ask with me, and them saying, ‘We don't think you should ask for that’”


Time and time again, negotiations, or lack thereof, have proven to be a hindrance to achieving pay parity. However, Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins proved the system wrong. After directing the box-office hit, her management team was able to negotiate a one million dollar deal (Rose). Once it hit theaters, critics and fans across the globe were raving about the female centered film, which then earned Jenkins “somewhere between $7 million and $9 million plus backend to write and helm the sequel” (Rose). Jenkins and her team fought for the film and her deserved paycheck with Warner Bros., making her the highest paid female director in history (Rose). Management teams, agents, and studios must come together and support the women they represent. If women’s voices are heard, they can ultimately change the industry.

With the creation of the MeToo and Time’s Up movements in 2018, women’s voices are louder than ever and have gained considerable amounts of support. Though these movements are known to fight against sexual harassment, the gender wage gap is another important issue they are bringing to the forefront.

On April 1, 2019, Time’s Up launched a campaign called “Time’s Up Pay Up” to spark the conversation on the gender wage gap (Franklin). In addition to the campaign, “ICM Partners and CAA are among the Hollywood supporters who have pledged to help the Time's Up challenge to reach gender equality in pay by 2020” (Franklin). People in this industry can no longer stand idly by, but instead use campaigns such as Time’s Up to show their support by donating or simply sparking a conversation on the wage gap.

In turn, Time’s Up would be able to influence the California legislature to improve and create new laws regarding pay transparency and equality due to its immense support from Hollywood actresses and the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls.

 On July 10, 2019, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into legislation the “expansion of the state’s existing Pay Equity Law to require equal pay for “substantially similar work,” not just “equal work.” They will need to look across various jobs and the skills, efforts and responsibilities required to ensure that all workers with “substantially similar” assignments are paid the same” (Martinez).

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In Hollywood films, this legislation could be upheld by the Screen Actors Guild to pay male and female actors the same in an equally sized role as a lead, supporting, or background actor. This can be measured by the amount of days an actor is called to set and the amount of screentime they receive in the final cut. For example, Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg had “substantially similar,” if not equal roles in the film, yet the pay gap was shockingly large. With this legislation, male and female co-stars can share the screen and the same number of zeros on their paycheck.

Furthermore, New York’s improved Pay Equity Law states that aside from gender, protected classes include “gender identity and expression, race, sexual orientation, marital status, genetic characteristics and age, among others” (Martinez). As Hollywood grows in diversity by hiring more transgender and non-binary actors, this aspect of the legislation is important to adopt. Every actor under SAG-AFTRA should have equal opportunity and equal pay for the work they put out, so the protection of such minorities needs to be respected. Cuomo has also signed an additional bill that “bans employers from “requesting, requiring, or seeking” a job applicant’s or current employee’s salary or wage history” that went into effect on January 6, 2020 (Martinez).

Hollywood’s adoption of this legislation would avoid the bias “quotes” system and low-ball negotiations regarding female actors since studios will not have access to their previous salaries. Having a blank slate at the start of each job will give actresses and their agencies the opportunity to fairly negotiate their salary without the historically low dollar signs hanging over their heads as precedent.

Hollywood has proven to be a flawed business that tends to silence and discriminate against women. The $1-4 million gender wage gap in Hollywood will persist until there is a set policy that all studios must obey by (Sanchez). The effectiveness of a salary history ban would not be the same in Hollywood than the rest of America’s 9 to 5 jobs. In fact, Jennifer Lawrence’s controversy stemmed from the fact that she was not aware of her male co-stars’ salaries until they were leaked.

In such a fickle, money-hungry business as the entertainment industry, decisions made behind closed doors and under the table cause the problems. Thus, a pay transparency policy would be the best option for Hollywood executives and studios a part of SAG-AFTRA to enact for their actors. Each employee would be able to see their salaries for the quantity and quality of work compared to their counterparts.

Coupled with the continuous female-driven voices fighting for equally, this would force studios to close the gender wage gap. Hollywood could finally be able to give equal opportunities and equal paychecks to the hard working starlets of La-La Land.

Works Cited

Berg, Madeline. “Everything You Need To Know About The Hollywood Pay Gap.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 26 Feb. 2016, www.forbes.com/sites/maddieberg/2015/11/12/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-hollywood-pay-gap/#22cdb6895cf1.

Desta, Yohana. “The Hollywood Wage Gap Isn't Getting Better-but Actresses Are Pushing Back.” Vanity Fair, Vanity Fair, 19 Jan. 2018, www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2018/01/hollywood-wage-gap-times-up.

Franklin, Ericka. “‘Time's Up Pay Up’ Shirt Promotes National Equal Pay Day.” The Hollywood Reporter, 1 Apr. 2019, www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/times-up-pay-up-shirt-promotes-national-equal-pay-day-1198532.

Lauzen, Martha M. “The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 100, 250, and 500 Films of 2019.” Center For The Study of Women in Film & Television, 1 Jan. 2020, https://womenintvfilm.sdsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/2019_Celluloid_Ceiling_Report.pdf

Out Magazine Editors. “Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough & Billie Jean King on Tennis, Equality & the Battle of the Sexes.” OUT, 6 July 2017, www.out.com/out-exclusives/2017/7/06/emma-stone-andrea-riseborough-billie-jean-king-tennis-equality-battle-sexes.

Robehmed, Natalie. “How Time's Up Could Help Close Hollywood's Pay Gap.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 17 Jan. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/natalierobehmed/2018/01/17/how-times-up-could-help-close-hollywoods-pay-gap/#61f6424449ef.

Roepe, Lisa. “The Gender Pay Gap.” CQ researcher, 29, 1-30, 8 Nov. 2019, http://library.cqpress.com/.

Rose, Lacey. “The Hard Truth About Hollywood's Gender Pay Gap: Optics vs. Reality.” The Hollywood Reporter, 17 Jan. 2018, www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/hard-truth-hollywoods-gender-pay-gap-optics-reality-1075056.

Sanchez, Sofia Izquierdo. “Does Hollywood Have a Gender Pay Gap Problem?” World Economic Forum, 16 Sept. 2019, www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/09/hollywoods-million-dollar-gender-pay-gap-revealed.

Staff, Beatrice Girau. “Can Jennifer Lawrence Jumpstart Hollywood Wage Gap Conversation?” Christian Science Monitor, 13 Oct. 2015, p. N.PAG. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=110310261&site=ehost-live&scope=site.


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