The pay gap in Hollywood – and the rest of the world

The Sony hack just keeps hurting, with revelations about the pay gap between male and female actors leading one leading lady to demand a raise:

After leaked emails in the Sony hack showed unequal pay between male and female actors, Charlize Theron insisted she get the same pay as her male co-star Chris Hemsworth for “The Huntsman.”

She succeeded, netting a $10 million increase that puts her on par with Hemsworth.

It seems pretty straightforward: in case after case, women were being paid less than their male co-stars. Even, to be blunt, male co-stars who no one was going to see that film for:

For their work in the movie “American Hustle,” male actors Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and the director David O. Russell all got 9 percent of back-end profits, while Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, the movie’s two female leads, were each getting 7 percent. (Lawrence was originally going to get 5 percent but her pay had been raised.)

But not everyone see this as a problem. One of the top comments when I read that article said,

Charlize Theron was free to negotiate whatever she wanted to be paid as part of the movie. The fact that her co-star was a better negotiator doesn’t mean anything sinister is at play.

This is one of the major myths of wage-setting in general, and the gender pay gap in particular. The biggest hole in the argument is this: most people do not have detailed information on (a) pay rates in their industry, (b) pay rates in their workplace, (c) the financial status of their employer. The idea that every worker – from a checkout operator to an A-List actor – has a perfect idea of what they should be able to negotiate for from their employer is a fantasy.

When Charlize Theron was offered X, and Chris Hemsworth was offered X+10, they obviously didn’t compare notes and go “okay, that pay gap’s totally fine.” They didn’t have an industry-wide collective agreement setting out pay rates for their roles.

The only reason Charlize Theron knew she was getting paid less is because of the Sony hack.

Look at the other examples in that article. For American Hustle, the  (male) director and male co-stars got 9%, while Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence got 7% each. Surely it’s a coincidence all the guys were on the same, higher payrate? They obviously just negotiated better.

Do we really believe that the studio itself saw no problem in paying Jennifer Lawrence – one of the biggest, most-beloved stars of cinema at the moment – less than Jeremy Renner and Bradley Cooper?

Are we really going to pretend that Jennifer Lawrence just “didn’t negotiate” as well?

There are many factors to the gender pay gap, including the fact that jobs which are traditionally women-dominated are paid less than jobs which are traditionally men-dominated, despite involving just as much skill, qualification, and hard work.

But there is also just sexism, and the Sony hack has highlighted this.

I’m not suggesting that studio executives sat in smoke-filled rooms twirling their moustaches, saying “Muahahahaha, we’re going to pay Charlize Theron less than Chris Hemsworth because she’s a lady!” (Though that hacked email calling Angelina Jolie a “spoiled brat” means we shouldn’t 100% discount the possibility.)

It’s far more insidious than that. Sony probably offered Theron less money, and agreed to pay Hemsworth more, because it just seemed natural to do so. It’s just automatic to treat a male co-star of a movie as The Star and a female co-star as The Supporting Actress.

If actors’ pay was about qualifications or pull, we might look at the fact that Charlize Theron is a critically-acclaimed performer whose list of award nominations is can’t be captured in one screenshot on my monitor and includes an Oscar. And Chris Hemsworth is a hunky bit of man-flesh who’s mainly been nominated for Teen Choice Awards for starring in comic-book adaptations. Which might suggest that if there’s going to be a $10 million pay gap, it should go in the other direction.

But that would be weird.

And that’s why there’s a gender pay gap in Hollywood.

What do you reckon?

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