This week, Neil Calloway looks at the inequality in what men and women get paid for movies…
There has been much made recently of the disparity in pay between men and women across all industries, and a story this week brought the issue in Hollywood into sharp relief when Natalie Portman revealed that she was paid only a third of the salary her co-star, Ashton Kutcher received for the 2011 romantic comedy No Strings Attached.
Portman isn’t the first big name female star to make her feelings known about the imbalance in Hollywood pay; with the 2014 Sony hack exposing the pay gap between Jennifer Lawrence and her male co-stars in American Hustle. I don’t know about you, but for me paying Jeremy Renner more for that film than Lawrence is nothing short of bizarre; the memorable moments of that movie all belong to her.
There’s a free market case to be made for men getting paid more than women in some Hollywood movies; male actors tend to take leading roles in big films that make money (women may appear in them, but their names are rarely above the title). However, that can’t be said in the case of Portman and Lawrence; they’re Oscar winning actresses playing alongside, at best, mediocre actors. Portman is a Harvard graduate who was later employed by her Law Professor, Alan Dershowitz (no stranger to the screen, having been portrayed in both the film Reversal of Fortune and the TV series The People v. O.J. Simpson) as a researcher. Ashton Kutcher is most famous for his personal life and his business dealings – he was an early investor in Skype and Airbnb. Who do you think should have got paid more for the film?
It’s amazing that the only person on the planet who thinks Kutcher is worth more than Portman was the one responsible for drawing up the contracts for the movie. In fact, they probably didn’t believe it either. The discrepancy is inbuilt into Hollywood’s pay system; stars are pad according to “quotes” – what you got paid for your last film determines what you’ll get for your next movie. If you start off with a gender imbalance, you’ll always have one. The reason Kutcher got paid more than Portman has very little to do with their actual worth and a lot to do with egos and agents playing hard-ball. If the second half of 2016 taught us anything, it’s that a less qualified man with an ego will always do better than a more successful and suitable woman. Mediocre actors should be happy that their work is better remunerated that superior actresses, but they should be worried that the world now knows they do; their dominance won’t last.
What reports of Portman’s slight and Lawrence’s insult may do is help other actresses earn more. Next time Felicity Jones negotiates a pay cheque on a movie, or Emma Stone’s agent hammers out a deal, they’ll hopefully remember to play hard-ball and demand equality.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.