Equal pay for equal work.
Fair enough. But in Hollywood, no two actors are equal. Their value is determined by the budget of the picture, and the estimated box office value of their participation. Jennifer Lawrence, the second highest paid actress in the world, whose $52 million earnings last year were second only to Robert Downey Jr.’s $75 million, makes some misleading statements about her own experiences with salary inequality. She claims that she was paid millions less than her “Silver Linings Playbook” co-stars. On closer examination, she is comparing her salary on that film with Bradley Cooper’s salary on “American Hustle, “which had twice the budget of “Silver Linings Playbook.” The latter cost $23 million, which is approximately what Lawrence made on the second “Hunger Games” movie. Of course the salaries are going to be higher on a $40 million picture than on a $22 million dollar picture, and when that $22 million dollar picture grosses $132 million, the value of the actors involved in that picture are going to soar. So of course Cooper will make millions more in his next picture than either he or Lawrence made on “Playbook.” The same year of “American Hustle” he was paid $15 million for “Hangover 3.” Two years earlier, he made only $5 million for “Hangover 2,” and in 2009 was paid a mere $6,000 for the first “Hangover.” So, as we can clearly see, an actor’s value is always in a state of flux. Meanwhile, Jennifer Lawrence jumped from $1 million for the first “Hunger Games” to $10 million for the second one, made a year later, after winning an Academy Award for “Playbook.” Then she made the jump to $22 million with the third installment of “Hunger Games.”. So I don’t see where gender inequality has stopped her from keeping up with former co-star Bradley Cooper, who closed 2014 with a mere $46 million in earnings.
And what about Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart? For the first Twilight, each made $2 million. For the second, $12 million, and the third, $12.5 million. Yet outside of this role, Pattinson is not a highly paid actor, making only $1.5 million for 2011’s “Water for Elephants.” His co-star, Reese Witherspoon, was paid $2 million. Taking a quick overview of the pay inequalities of men and women of relatively equal value co-starring in movies, we find that Humphrey Bogart was paid $125, 000 to Katherine Hepburn’s $130,000 for “The African Queen. Richard Burton made $750,000 to Elizabeth Taylor’s $1 million for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” but we didn’t hear either Burton or Bogart complain about gender inequality on pay day.
Jennifer Lawrence is the highest paid actress in the world, with only one actor earning more than she did in 2014, yet she has set herself up as the spokesperson for pay inequality in Hollywood. Money in Hollywood has nothing to do with equality. Just the opposite, it is the system’s way of measuring the success of the individual and the relative value of that individual to the industry. Hundreds of actors and actors begin their careers with puny paychecks, and most of them are still scraping along ten years after their debuts, that is if they have managed to hang in there for that long. It is not only talent and looks that help a performer on their way in Hollywood. Their success depends to a large degree on how eager the public is to line up to see them. Lawrence cites Amy Adams as one of the typically underpaid actresses whose performances are so integral to the success of the movies in which she appears. This might be true, but how many people bought a ticket to “American Hustle” because they wanted to see Amy Adams? she is a solid $5 million a picture actress. She always does a good job, and audiences like her, but she is no superstar, and her participation in a picture does not guarantee a substantial increase in box office receipts.
I am not saying there is no pay inequality in Hollywood. Of course there is. It is a tough business, and there is a lot of struggle and compromise, especially at the beginning of a career. With so many women competing for so few roles, the pay is likely to be less than for the men who are just breaking into the industry. It is the law of supply and demand. If so and so has a small budget and there is a good part for a supporting actress, the one who will accept $1,000 a day is more apt to get the part than one demanding $5,000 a day.. Men at the beginning of their career face similar salary inequalities, although the greater number of roles combined with a fewer number of applicants tend to raise the salary bar. So yes, there is definitely gender inequality in Hollywood pay rates, but it is most strongly felt at the lower end of the spectrum. Once an actor or actress breaks out of the cattle pen, there is no limit to their earning potential, and this is not the case with most other careers.
I can’t take seriously a labor movement for equal wages being spearheaded by the second most highly paid performer in the business. If we are to see true equality in pay right down the line, it will have to be led by those who are truly oppressed by the inequalities under which they work. Watching Jennifer Lawrence campaign for equal pay is a bit like watching Donald Trump fighting to raise the minimum raise. Can you imagine him with a sign around his neck demanding “Pay Me More?” You should be laughing at Lawrence just as you would laugh at Trump were he as ludicrously involved in working class struggle as she pretends to be.