Pretty underpaid women: the gender gap in Hollywood

Equality in Hollywood has once again been thrown into the limelight following Emma Stone’s statement that some male co-stars have taken pay cuts to be equal with her.  This is not the first time a ‘big name’ female actor has pointed out the disparity between their own paycheques and their male counterparts’.

Patricia Arquette declared that it was ‘…time to have wage equality once and for all’ whilst accepting her Oscar for Supporting Actress in Boyhood.  Jennifer Lawrence wrote an essay discussing how in the aftermath of the Sony hack – which revealed the wages of many screen stars – she was mad at herself for not pushing for higher pay.  In 2015 Jennifer Lawrence was the highest paid actress in Hollywood and earned approximately 52 million dollars, which is not to be sniffed at.  What should be sniffed perhaps is the 80 million earned by Robert Downey Jr., the highest paid actor, in the same year.  Figures like this demonstrate the inequality which exists between male and female actors in Hollywood.

Only 7% of directors of the top 250 films in 2016 were female, a 2% decline from 2015.

Partially this may be due to the ‘quote’ method of payment which most above-the-line workers in the movie industry are paid using.  Directors, actors, writers and producers are all paid based on the bank-ability of their creative work as well as the amount they are expected to pull in once the movie is released.  Big names receive big pay cheques whilst a failure to continually deliver creatively and in the box office can lead to a lower ‘quotability’ and eventually a lack of work.  This is the distinction between above-the-line and below-the-line workers, the former are typically the creative forces driving the movie and big names, which harks back to the older days of film budgeting where a physical cut off was drawn on the budget plan.

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Emma Stone, one of Hollywood’s big names whose talent has been vastly unrewarded compared to her male co-stars. 

The fact that male stars, and male writers and directors, are typically paid more than their female counterparts could then be attributed to male actors carrying a bit more star power. I would argue however that female actors are not given enough opportunities to lead movies or appear on screen at all.  In the top 100 grossing films of 2016 women accounted for 29% of major characters, a 7% rise from 2015 a comparison made in the study ‘It’s a Man’s Celluloid world’.  Despite this record number moviegoers are more than twice as likely to see male actors on screen.  As a result, male actors have much more opportunity to increase their box office draw and negotiate their pay rates.

Of the hundreds of best directors nominations from the Oscars only 5 have gone to female directors…

The percentage of women in all roles in the top 100 was only 32% and when we look within the statistic we see further inequality.  76% of female characters were white, 14% black, 6% Asian, 3% Latina and 1% was classed as other.  This means only a quarter of female characters were of an ethnicity other than white.  This results in further inequality among female actresses as well as between male and female performers.

Behind the camera but still above-the-line we find even more inequality.  Only 7% of directors of the top 250 films in 2016 were female, a 2% decline from 2015.  Similarly with other above-the-line positions 13% of writers were female, 24% producers and only 5% were cinematographers.  Of the hundreds of best directors nominations from the Oscars only 5 have gone to female directors – Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, and Kathryn Bigelow twice.  Studies have found that movies helmed by female directors and writers have more women in front and behind the camera.

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Kathryn Bigelow, Hollywood’s most decorated female director, on set.

So here the solution seems quite simple.  Studios should increase the number of female directors and writers they employ and women will appear on screen more often.  Thus, they will have more opportunity to increase their box office draw as well as negotiate pay.  Ensure that these female above-the-line workers come from a variety of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds and equality will surely increase.  But this is easier said than done.  An increase in women attending film schools and entering the field in below-the-line areas is perhaps more likely to have a positive effect on women working in the film industry.

Until there are real actions being taken to increase women’s involvement in the industry it is unlikely to change.

But now we come to the next obstacle – there is a gender gap in below-the-line work as well as a low amount of representation for women in these positions.  Ten times Oscar nominated sound mixer Anne Blehmer said she was only awarded true credibility from her male colleagues following her first Oscar nomination.  And this seems to be a similar theme for many women behind the camera in the industry, where concrete proof is needed to validate their skills.

Whilst Jennifer Lawrence and other stars are affected we must not forget the huge number of female production staff who wage discrimination. 

In 2013 2% of composers were female, 4% sound designers and 2% of special effects supervisors in the 250 top-grossing films according to a study by the Center for the study of Women in Television and Film.  This indicates that behind the scenes and below-the-line the film industry may seem like an impenetrable boy’s club to young women wishing the enter the industry.  And whilst this is does not deter women it can slow the progress of young women in the industry.  This is of course disregarding the jobs which are often overwhelmingly female – make-up, costume and script supervision.

If we look back to Emma Stone and her pay-cutting co-star from the beginning there are several solutions for Hollywood to employ which are becoming apparent.  First , encourage women from a multitude of backgrounds to engage in all areas of film production not just the coveted creative areas.  This will lead to wider diversity in below-the-line work areas and a more inter-sectional workforce.  Second, from a creative standpoint women must be involved in the pre-production process to a wider extent.  Attaching a female director to a project will result in more women in above-the-line positions.  More women leading films creatively will lead to perspectives which we do not often see in films.  And may finally lead to decline in the ‘male gaze’ which dominates cinematography and script-writing.  Ultimately it would lead to more women appearing in film, allowing them to negotiate higher pay as above-the-line performers and to be equals with their male counterparts.  If these directors, writers and actors come from ethnically and socially diverse backgrounds even better.

More from Delilah – Big Bucks and How to Make Them? : Fantastic Beasts

Implementing these actions using apprenticeships, scholarships, shadowing initiatives and workshops could lead to some eventual change.  Women’s involvement in the industry is increasing, especially in the independent film industry – undictated by box office gravitas.  But until there are real actions being taken to increase women’s involvement in the industry it is unlikely to change.  Emma Stone’s co-stars may be taking a knife to their wages for a while longer.

By Delilah Niel

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