If Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t get paid as much as her male colleagues for the same work, ordinary women don’t stand a chance.
Sony’s hacked e-mails have revealed a troubling truth — that even the wealthiest and most powerful women among us are burdened by the ever-present gender pay gap. In a Dec. 5, 2013 exchange, Sony and Columbia Pictures executives mulled over that fact that Jennifer Lawrence was being paid less than her male co-stars in “American Hustle.” The inequity of the situation should have been obvious. Lawrence brought an indisputable level of star power to the movie: She had just starred in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”, which claimed one of the largest box office opening weekend in movie history and, earlier in the year, she had won the Oscar for Best Leading Actress for her role in “Silver Linings Playbook.” Her co-star in that film, Bradley Cooper, was nominated for an Oscar, but didn’t win. Until then, he was best known for his less-than-Oscar caliber performances in “The Hangover” franchise.
Still, the Sony e-mail revealed that when Cooper and Lawrence starred together again, in “American Hustle,” Cooper was getting the bigger paycheck. The e-mail detailed the “points” — or percentages of back-end profits — that each of the film’s main actors was to receive, and noted that Lawrence wasn’t the only actress getting shortchanged. The male actors — Christian Bale, Jeremy Renner and Bradley Cooper — were each getting 9 points. Amy Adams, the lead actress, was getting just 7 points. (It should be noted that Amy Adams, at this point in her career, had been nominated for four Academy Awards — more than Renner and Cooper combined. Bale had one Oscar win at the time.) Lawrence, meanwhile, had originally been receiving only 5 points, which was later raised to 7 points, according to the e-mail written by Andrew Gumpert, Columbia Pictures President of Business Affairs and Administration. The e-mail proposed raising Lawrence to be equal with her male co-stars. It’s unclear whether Lawrence’s or Adams’s compensation rates were increased, but to the critique that they were unfair in the first place, Sony Pictures Chairman Amy Pascal responded: “there is truth here.”
For some time, conservatives have disputed the truth of the gender wage gap. Despite numerous credible studies showing that women earn roughly 77 percent of what men earn, conservatives attack the idea of a pay gap as “a myth” and “a total sham.” They claim that women make 23 percent less than men because women take time out of their careers to care for children, choose less demanding jobs, or fail to negotiate for higher salaries as vigorously as their male counterparts. But here, we have a situation that negates all those excuses. In Lawrence, we have a highly talented woman who is single with no children, and — as evidenced by her success — extremely hardworking. She likely has a team of agents, managers and lawyers who advocate for her best interests in production deals, representatives not only skilled at negotiations but presumably well-informed on prevailing compensation standards in the industry. And yet, she’s still paid as though she’s less valuable than her male co-workers, who performed the same job she did. How much less was she to be paid? What’s the difference between 7 points and 9 points? Yup, about 23 percent.
Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams aren’t average women; they have far more power and resources to ensure they are paid what they are worth. So if, despite that, they still get paid just 77 cents for every $1 their male counterparts make, ordinary women negotiating on their own for an hourly wage as a cashier or an annual salary as a mid-level manager don’t stand a chance. If the pay gap is so flagrantly affecting one of Hollywood’s biggest female stars, can there be any doubt it’s also affecting typical working women — probably far worse?
Those who don’t think the gender pay gap is really a thing insist that any differences between women and men’s wages are due to substantive differences between their jobs or otherwise unintentional variables. But from the JLaw exchange, we learn how direct and deliberate pay discrimination can be. The studio executives — yes, including women executives — knew Lawrence and Adams were being paid less. Several layers of lawyers and finance people likely touched the deals and knew the disparities. And yet, at least as of the writing of this one hacked e-mail, just a week before the movie’s first release date, the inequity was still in place.
Then again, many of those same film executives might not have been aware of their own pay gaps. Hacked e-mails also revealed that the co-presidents at Columbia pictures were paid significantly different salaries, though they had the same job. The studio paid Michael De Luca $2.4 million a year but only paid Hannah Minghella $1.5 million a year — or 37 percent less than De Luca. And again, realize that a bunch of people up the studio food chain knew about this wild disparity and yet allowed it to stand.
One of the sweeter things to surface in the hacked Sony e-mails is that Jennifer Lawrence’s personal e-mail address includes the undeniably cute nickname “peanutbutt.” But what is undeniably not cute is that Jennifer Lawrence is the butt of a joke society plays on women who work equally hard and contribute as much to their fields, and yet are paid a fraction of their male colleagues’ salaries. It’s evidence of just how engrained systemic gender discrimination is in our society. Even when we have all of the resources, accolades and power available, women are still devalued.
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