Jennifer Lawrence and the Hollywood pay gap

#ELLEopinion: why that 2 per cent matters to you

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‘It’s only 2 per cent’. ‘She earns £8million pounds per movie anyway’. I could go on… But you get my drift. It’s easy enough to argue that it doesn’t actually matter that Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams got paid less than their male co-stars for American Hustle, as was revealed this week in hacked emails of Sony film executives.

I mean, really, when you're worth tens of millions, what’s an extra few hundred thousand here and there? How can we bring ourselves to care about someone who is richer than we can possibly imagine? Shouldn’t someone that wealthy just be grateful, full stop.

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But. But.

While I don’t expect anyone reading this to feel sorry for Oscar-winning, multi-millionaire actresses, it’s too easy to dismiss this as someone else’s problem. It should matter – and it is does matter – to you.

Because if even some of the most powerful women in Hollywood are being discriminated against, purely on the basis of their sex, how can we expect progress for the rest of us? Especially when the gender pay gap in the UK is at 9.4% and Britain has fallen down the world equality rankings to a record low of 26th place, our worst since 2008.

If you missed what happened earlier this week, here’s a quick recap.

Actors and actresses, as well as getting a fee for their work, are also given a percentage share of the film’s box-office profits, to reflect the success (or failure), of their work. So far, so sensible.
In the case of American Hustle, the male stars Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and Christian Bale were offered 9%, whereas Jennifer Lawrence (whose part was of an equal size) was originally offered 5%, while Amy Adams got 7%. Lawrence's agent found out, this was upped to 7%, but the leaked emails reveal that both actresses were aware, annoyed and frustrated that, for no apparent reason, they were being refused equal pay.

The fact that educated and successful (and in one case, female) executives were actively and consciously working to ensure women get lower wages than men is bad enough.
But worse is that Jennifer and Amy, both enormously bankable Oscar and Golden Globe-winning actresses (note: Bradley Cooper, Mr 9%, has yet to win one) weren’t considered ‘worthy’ enough to earn the same as their male co-stars.

I’d like to say it beggars belief – because I cannot for the life of me think of a single rational excuse that the producers could have come up with to explain it away (they didn’t. Studio boss Amy Pascal merely responded to their objections with ‘There is truth here’). But it’s hard to conclude anything other than sexism is so entrenched in Hollywood that it’s simply considered ‘normal’ that men and women aren’t equal.

And this has ramifications on a global scale, for this is a billion-dollar industry that shapes the lives and cultural references of billions of viewers.

Just take last year’s phenomally successful The Wolf of Wall Street – a morally ambigious biopic about corrupt New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort.

The drug-taking, the orgies, even the criminal behaviour, it was all glamorised. But, to me, the exploitation of women was the most unpalatable aspect. Yes, it was ‘true’ to Jordan Belfort’s own memoir and ‘recollections’, but rather than see him for the deeply unpleasant and screwed up character he was, young British bankers dressed up as him and held screening parties. He was a hero, not a creep – and Hollywood’s own celebration of Belfort is largely to blame.

This sexism is all-pervading – from the film executives and the so-called Hollywood heroes, to the audiences who soak them up.

It matters so much that Hollywood can’t bring itself to pay some of their most successful women as much as their equally successful (and in some cases less successful) male co-stars, because it demonstrates how little value women are afforded.

And this attitude will permeate every film, every audience who will be raised on this diet of cultural norms and know no better, and every young girl who will see that even their heroines cannot overcome such prejudice. How then will they know to fight for themselves? And how easy it will become for the rest of us to make those excuses, to brush it under the carpet - and the pay gap, gender inequality, and casually thrown about sexism, on it will go.

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