The Opportunity Gap
Hollywood is facing an “inclusion crisis” on the whole, according to a report by the University of Southern California. Women, people of color, and LGBTQ people are hugely underrepresented. And even big box-office stars aren’t immune to the pay gap: Women in Hollywood regularly earn less than their male counterparts. Sexism and racism are rampant in the industry — but directors, producers, and actors are fighting back. Here’s what they have to say.
Kerry Washington addressed sexism and race in Hollywood during an Entertainment Weekly roundtable. She said:
“[Sexism] reminds me of this line that Shonda Rhimes wrote on our show [Scandal] that has really resonated with African-Americans. It’s this idea you have to be twice as good to get half of what they have. I think it’s the same for women. You just know, you have to be twice as good. In a way, until girls don’t have that feeling, we will not have done our jobs. That’s almost the point: to not feel the pressure to be extraordinary."
Washington stars on ABC’s Scandal, which earned her nominations for a Golden Globe and two Emmys. She’s won four NAACP Image awards and received the 2015 GLAAD Media Vanguard Award for her work in LGBTQ-inclusive programs and outspoken support of the LGBTQ community.
Despite bringing in a staggering $52 million in 2015, Jennifer Lawrence made a far less than her male costars in American Hustle — a 7 percent share of profits compared to the men’s 9 percent. In an essay in the Lenny newsletter, Lawrence writes, “When … I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks, I didn’t get mad at Sony, I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early. I didn’t want to keep fighting over millions of dollars that, frankly, due to two franchises, I don’t need.”
Lawrence highlights the idea that women are taught to constantly edit themselves, especially when it comes to asking for what they want: “I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what angle he should use to have his voice heard. It’s just heard.”
Lawrence won an Oscar for her role in The Silver Linings Playbook and has been nominated three additional times. She’s also won three Golden Globes.
The pay gap is especially felt by women of color — the old 78-cents-on-the-dollar argument isn’t the same across the board. In an interview with Variety, Mo’Nique added to the discussions of diversity at the Oscars:
“To focus on a trophy, we totally miss the point. Let’s have a real and open conversation. That’s when change will happen in Hollywood. To ask me about a trophy is really irrelevant. It’s just a trophy. But why is there such a pay gap? If there’s a black film coming out and it’s an all-black cast, why is it that it’s a low-budget film? The offers I oftentimes receive are less than I got 11 years ago, and that’s before I won the Oscar.”
She goes on to say: “We put so much on the Oscars; at this point we’re being misdirected. The focus should not be on the trophy. The focus should be on the paychecks and the unequal wages. Anytime you hear Patricia Arquette and Gwyneth Paltrow, when you hear those white women say, ‘We’re not getting equal wages.’ Well if they are saying it, what do you think we’re getting?”
Mo’Nique won an Oscar for her supporting role in Precious. She says there’s never been a time in her career when her paycheck was equal.
In her 2015 Emmy acceptance speech, Viola Davis addressed the opportunity gap among women of color: “In my dreams and visions, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line, but I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line. … The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
In the June 2015 issue of Elle UK, Charlize Theron talked about her negotiation to get a salary equal to that of her male costar in the sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman.
“I have to give them credit because once I asked, they said yes. They did not fight it. And maybe that’s the message: That we just need to put our foot down,” she said. “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.”
Theron won an Oscar for best actress her role in Monster in 2004, and has three Golden Globe nominations and one win. She became a UN Messenger of Peace in 2008, and focuses on preventing HIV and eliminating violence against women.
Discussing the “why” behind the need for a night revolving around women — and women of color — at the 22nd annual Elle Women in Hollywood awards, DuVernay said, “Our conversation shouldn't be consumed with what he's not doing or what they don't value. We value us. We build our village. We grow stronger. We testify in commissions, and we write our own op-eds, and we push at every turn that's necessary.
“We also blossom because we nourish one another. We focus on her — the woman sitting right next to you. We focus on us. It's equally as important. If we don't do both, I think we lose. Toni Morrison, a prophet that I really admire, said the function of racism is distraction to keep you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining your reason for being. I think sexism is the same. Patriarchy is the same thing — constantly having to justify our very presence. It's something to think about.
“I believe that there are multiple ways we can attack the problems that we face as women in this industry. And fortifying one another and being food and fuel and fire for one another is one of those things.”
DuVernay has been a vocal spokesperson for a more inclusive Hollywood. Her 2014 movie Selma earned her a nomination for best director at the Golden Globes, but she was famously snubbed at last year’s Oscars.