It would be wrong to think that current high-profile calls for women to receive equal treatment within the film industry are a recent phenomenon.
The fact is that women have always been frustrated by the unfair treatment that they have received at the hands of a male-dominated film industry.
Marilyn Monroe famously gave her insight into Hollywood saying “I met them all. Some were vicious and crooked. But … you saw Hollywood with their eyes — an overcrowded brothel, a merry-go-round with beds for horses.”
So why is it, more than 100 years since the birth of cinema, that women are still having to fight this battle against unfair treatment?
Last year saw the beginning of a real revolution in women’s rights in Hollywood.
The MeToo# movement, which was sparked by the revelations that powerful movie producer Harvey Weinstein had sexually assaulted actress Rose McGowan, led to a torrent of women coming forward with similar accusations against him and other movie insiders.
Not only did this movement unmask a huge number of cases of sexual harassment and assault against females and some males, least we not forget, in Hollywood, but also highlighted how degenerate figures in the profession used their power to destroy the careers of countless female professionals who refused to play ball.
One area regarding the mistreatment of female film professionals that also received a lot of coverage was the inequality in the pay for actresses. For years, actresses have tried to bring to the world’s attention the disparity of pay between men and women in Hollywood but have received little in the way of media attention.
Thanks to the MeToo# movement and industry insider’s voices finally being heard, mainstream media is now giving this issue the coverage it deserves. We have heard numerous cases where actresses have come forward to reveal how little they have earned costarring in a film when compared to their male costar.
In one heartwarming example, actor Mark Wahlberg generously donated the $1.5 million amount that he had earned filming reshoots to charity as a gesture of support after he discovered his co-star Michelle Williams only earned $1,000 for the same thing.
Do women really deserve equal pay?
This is an incredibly complex question that has many parts to answer.
The most obvious way to try to answer this question is to keep the point purely monetary. Audiences go to see Hollywood movies largely based on which stars are in them. Ever since the early days of Hollywood films, stars have been a huge part of what sells movies.
You can see how we value stars by looking at big budget movies that flopped at the box office. Read an article on recent flops and you will notice that the emphasis regarding the failure is not on the film’s script, action sequences etc., but rather is on the star.
Many a star has had a drastic pay cut or even had their career ruined by a box office flop. One time megastar Kevin Costner had his entire career ruined by the terrible Waterworld and a succession of mediocre romance films.
Likewise, director Michael Cimino had his career ruined with “Heaven’s Gate”.
Both examples serve to highlight just how Hollywood gages success and how unforgiving it is of failure.
So, going purely on the monetary value of the power of a star to draw in audiences, and therefore box office receipts, are women deserving of equal pay?
The answer to this question is yes and no.
If we look at a film where the central character happens to be a man, as in the case of Iron Man or Superman, surely the monetary value lies with the central actor? Naturally, all other actors can be regarded as co-stars and therefore not deserving of the same pay. So in this case, just because an actress could be regarded as a co-star, surely since she is not the main draw she shouldn’t be paid as much.
A better example comes when both a male and female play more equal leads. Surprisingly, it is actually not so easy to find films that qualify. The most obvious example comes with romantic comedies, however, most films still revolve around one character more than others.
Take Sleepless in Seattle, for example, where Tom Hank’s character takes most of the screen time but where Meg Ryan is actually a central role in the film even when she is not onscreen.
In such a case, is equal pay justified given that Hanks would have had to do more of the work?
I think it is reasonable to say no.
However, this is not really the issue.
The real issue is that women are not paid as much as their male counterparts for the work they do. Any argument that this was a result of less star appeal has been disproven time and time again. Last year’s Wonder Woman is one example that cannot be ignored by anyone.
The film’s star Gal Gadot was paid just $300,000 for a film that has grossed $821.708 million. By comparison, actor Robert Downey Jr., granted more of a household name than before the taking the role, was paid $500,000 back in 2008 for the first installment of the Iron Man film.
If you do your background research, you will discover he was only paid such a small amount because he was considered to be a high risk. Otherwise, he would have been paid more.
It is important to remember that, 10 years after the original Iron Man film, we are now in superhero mania so salaries are much higher. To put this in context, Henry Cavill, a relatively unknown actor, was reputedly paid a whopping £11 million for Man of Steel.
Just from these few examples, it is clear to see how unfair the gender based pay system is in Hollywood.
Judging the value of anyone’s star appeal is a tough challenge. Stars such as Robert Downey Jr. have shown their power to make or break a franchise. So rewarding them heavily for the second installment can be seen as justified, however, the exact same rule is true of female actors.
It will be interesting to see just how much of a pay rise Gal Gadot gets for the inevitable second installment of Wonder Woman. Given the strength of feeling around women’s rights movement at the moment, it would seem hard to imagine that the rise won’t be in proportion to what men have received in the past. However, this is Hollywood, where anything can happen.
When the river runs deep
What we must never forget is just how deep this problem runs. Discrimination doesn’t start and end with movie stars. Anyone who follows insider news from the film industry will have heard how film extras and production staff have been pushing for better pay for years.
These people, both male and female, have been out on strike on numerous occasions to try to get their value recognized. The industry has been incredibly resistant to their struggle.
Their plight highlights the fact that the industry isn’t just prejudiced towards just women but also to skills and professions that it seems to undervalue. Perhaps a better title to this article, but less attention-grabbing, would have been: Why doesn’t Hollywood recognize real value?
To conclude the original point, of course, women deserve to be paid the same as men. The fact that film studios shortchange their female stars and professionals seems ridiculous. Stars that feel cheated will not only be less motivated to work with certain studios and professionals but can generate bad publicity for them by going to the newspapers.
However, as Harvey Weinstein proved, somehow the big guys always get away with it. It will be interesting to see just how Hollywood moves towards equality over the next few years. The pressure is there, now all we need is action.
There is always hope. Perhaps some young math’s genius can devise a formula to give an exact value of a person’s input to a film, based on their star power, onscreen time, and the amount of work they do for the film?
This might finally allow for equality in pay and finally, put this long-running problem to bed. However, until that day, lets wish all the movements for change the very best of luck.
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