Editor’s Note: Kara Alaimo, an assistant professor of public relations at Hofstra University, is the author of “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication.” She was the spokeswoman for international affairs in the Treasury Department during the Obama administration. Follow her on Twitter @karaalaimo. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
On Tuesday, USA Today reported that actor Michelle Williams was paid less than 1% of her male co-star Mark Wahlberg’s salary for filming re-shoots of the movie “All the Money in the World.”
While Wahlberg was reportedly paid $1.5 million, Williams made less than $1,000. Though she did agree to be paid a per diem of $80 for re-shoots, she may not have been aware that Wahlberg’s agent had negotiated a significantly better deal for him – and both Williams and Wahlberg are represented by the same talent agency, William Morris Endeavor.
Ironically, the shocking disparity happened because director Ridley Scott was trying to fight sexual misconduct. He decided to re-shoot scenes of the movie to replace actor Kevin Spacey, who has been accused of sexual harassment and assault.
Other female actors such as Mia Farrow and Jessica Chastain have already taken to social media to speak out against this injustice. That’s important, because the best allies women in Hollywood have in the fight for pay equity are one another. And one of the best allies women in America have in the fight for pay equity is Hollywood.
In 2017, as Hollywood’s women bravely spoke out against sexual harassment, the pay gap between female and male actors did not seem to be closing. According to Forbes’ list of top-paid actors, Wahlberg – the highest-paid man in the biz – made $42 million more than the top-paid actress, Emma Stone.
To achieve pay equity, women in Hollywood need to band together. Right now, it’s hard for any one female actor to insist on being paid the same as her male co-stars. If she demands a big salary, she runs the risk of losing the role to a woman who will work for less.
But if all women in Hollywood signed a public pledge that they won’t accept salaries that aren’t equivalent to that of men at the same levels on the same productions, then filmmakers would be forced to pay women equitably. After all, almost every production has female characters.
Of course, another problem is ensuring that filmmakers are honest during such negotiations and don’t later cut better backroom deals with male stars. For example, Scott told USA Today back in December that all the actors re-shooting “All the Money in the World” were working “for nothing.” Now, it appears that wasn’t true, or it subsequently changed.
So, it would be helpful for an outside agency to independently audit productions to certify that they pay their male and female talent equitably. I nominate the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the role. Women actors could write clauses into their contracts specifying that if the Academy finds that men in equivalent roles are paid more, their salaries would automatically be increased to match.
Productions that are vetted by the Academy for pay equity could also run a special imprimatur in the film credits – kind of like the “Made in NY” seal the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment bestows upon qualified films and television shows that do at least 75% of their production in the Big Apple. The reputational boost such a mark of distinction would bestow would give producers another incentive to participate.
Of course, as a presumed multi-millionaire, Williams will be fine even if she isn’t compensated for the re-shoots at the same rate of pay as Wahlberg. But, if this kind of behavior continues in Hollywood, America won’t be. For better or worse, Americans idolize and imitate Hollywood. We closely follow and adopt trends set by the industry, from actors’ attire to their attitudes. If everyone in Hollywood made it standard operating procedure to ensure that women and men were paid equitably, other people and sectors would almost certainly follow their lead.
It would be an important step toward helping women make half the money in the world.