The making of Oscar-contending movies doesn’t often provide social movements with useful thought experiments. But this is a strange season in Hollywood, so perhaps it’s fitting that the production details for “All the Money in the World” — Ridley Scott’s film about J. Paul Getty’s reluctance to ransom his grandson after the young man was kidnapped in 1973 — have ended up posing two important questions: What’s the right choice to make when two feminist principles seem to be in conflict? And what could happen if we didn’t automatically accept that we had to choose?
The movie made headlines late in 2017 when Scott announced that he would reshoot the movie shortly before its release to replace Kevin Spacey, who had been accused of serious sexual misconduct, with Christopher Plummer in the role of the elder Getty. Scott said publicly that everyone involved in the reshoots did so without additional compensation. The whole saga seemed like proof that Hollywood could be both morally accountable and market-savvy in the #MeToo era — until The Post and then USA Today reported that Mark Wahlberg, who portrayed Getty’s security expert Fletcher Chase, had in fact been paid $1.5 million for his additional work, while Michelle Williams had forgone a salary and accepted around $1,000 to cover her per diems.
Reshooting a movie is not a logistically easy proposition, nor is it necessarily an inexpensive one. So it’s easy to see how those involved in “All the Money in the World” seemed caught between two competing imperatives. The first was the desire to replace Spacey so the movie would not be shelved, and to demonstrate that studios and directors didn’t have to stand by high-profile men who were accused of heinous behavior to justify their investments. The second was the idea that actresses (and all women) should negotiate aggressively for equal compensation. The pay gap has been the subject of particularly intense attention in Hollywood since 2014, when a major hack of emails from Sony made clear that Jennifer Lawrence had been paid less than her male co-stars in “American Hustle.” “All the Money in the World” is also a Sony movie.
Williams seems to have decided that, of these two ideas, the former was more important. As Kyle Buchanan reported in a profile of her for Vulture, “Williams offered to forgo both her salary and Thanksgiving holiday if it meant the film could make it over the finish line, and the production took her up on both offers.”
The producers’ failure to pay Williams more than her per diem might have been an insidious attempt to take advantage of a woman. Or perhaps it was the decision of a team seizing any convenience as they sought to reshoot a movie on an astonishingly tight schedule. The pay disparity also reflects poorly on William Morris Endeavor, the agency that represents Williams, Wahlberg and Scott. Wahlberg’s team of agents includes Ari Emanuel, the co-chief executive officer of the agency; Williams and Scott are represented by other agents. SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents actors, has announced an investigation into the disparity.
Whether Williams could have gotten the exact same paycheck as Wahlberg for the reshoots probably depends on how much additional work each of them had to do. Simon Halls, Scott’s publicist, didn’t respond to an email asking whether the producers considered matching Williams’s and Wahlberg’s compensation once Wahlberg’s agents negotiated his fee, or whether there was a substantial difference in the amount of time Scott needed from each actor. But these are details: Clearly, the reshoots did not actually depend on everyone working for nothing. Of the $10 million that Imperative Entertainment kicked in to finance the reshoots, 15 percent went to Wahlberg.
The problem here isn’t that Williams failed to lean in enough. She did everything she thought she had to do, including giving up Thanksgiving with her family, to make sure that “All the Money in the World” would get into theaters. The problem is that she, her representatives and the producers of “All the Money in the World” all accepted that pulling off that ambitious goal required her to forfeit a salary. Obviously, Wahlberg and his representatives rejected that premise, or never really considered it in the first place. (Whether they violated the bounds of good taste in trying to turn Scott’s positive intentions into a significant payday is another question entirely.)
When you are presented with a situation that seems to require sacrifice, it’s not selfish to see whether the constraints before you are as binding as they appear. Doing the right thing doesn’t always mean that someone has to give up something. Assuming so makes unnecessary compromises routine instead of establishing fair practices as the norm. If Williams’s agents had asked the producers to guarantee equal pay rates for everyone involved, “All the Money in the World” would have avoided a round of bad press, and Scott and his colleagues would have gotten double credit.
Short-term expedience can end up being costly — and not just for the person who didn’t get paid.