Would you reduce your own pay for “equality?”

According to actress, Emma Stone:
In my career so far, I’ve needed my male co-stars to take a pay cut so that I may have parity with them. And that’s something they do for me because they feel it’s what’s right and fair. That’s something that’s also not discussed, necessarily—that our getting equal pay is going to require people to selflessly say, ‘That’s what’s fair.’ If my male co-star, who has a higher quote than me but believes we are equal, takes a pay cut so that I can match him, that changes my quote in the future and changes my life.
Let’s stipulate first that this is, of course, only happening because everyone is getting paid such gobs of money that the exact amounts may not make a difference. If a man did this at a working-joe level, I think we would all think that man was stupid. 
But even at these levels where money seems more decorative than purposeful, I have to wonder if this makes any sense as a path toward equality. Ok, first, what is equality? The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was meant to abolish wage disparity based on sex. I think this should be considered a phrase: “wage disparity based on sex.” It’s not that people can’t be paid differently – but that people shouldn’t be paid differently because of their different sexes.
 
So first off, I guess the question is, was there a wage inequality problem here and secondly, does this method solve it. 
 
Now in her new movie, Emma Stone is starring with Steve Carrell “Battle of the Sexes.” It’s about this tennis match where a top female tennis player beats a male tennis player who is 25 years past his prime and her victory is supposed to show that women are great athletes or something like that. (The movie and the whole thing sounds idiotic, sorry)
 
Based on her statements, I’m going to assume that Steve Carrell was offered more money than Emma Stone for his part in this movie and that he took a paycut so they could be paid equally. A movie called “Battle of the Sexes” almost demands such a result.
As a matter of philosophy, if, for example, Emma Stone and Tom Cruise were costarring in this movie, and Tom Cruise was paid more, that doesn’t seem like a “wage disparity based on sex.” Tom Cruise is the most famous movie star of all time and is getting paid more because he is Tom Cruise. 
 
If Steve Carrell was paid more than Emma Stone, that’s a bit tougher. On gut instinct, I would think he should get paid more because he’s had a longer list of acting credits and has better name recognition. But regardless of the actual merits, if he was offered a larger salary, perhaps he has a better agent. There isn’t clearly any wage inequality due to sex. It’s not like Emma Stone is starring with .
 
Also I wonder, if Emma Stone were offered more than Steve Carrell, would she have lowered her salary for pay equality with him? I think not. To the extent that actresses are offered higher salaries than their male costars, I think many would think that the woman had earned it – through a bigger part, better name recognition, etc. I don’t see why we wouldn’t also assume that of men who are offered higher salaries than women. Otherwise it seems like more prejudice, not less.
 
If the pay differential is based on other factors other than sex (and hopefully not on prohibited bases like race) than it’s not really pay inequality. And if there’s no problem, then there isn’t necessarily a solution.
Still, assuming that there is a colorable argument for pay inequality, the second question is whether men renegotiating their salaries to match their lower-paid women’s salaries is a viable or smart way to achieve the pay inequality so desired here. Even if the people who were negotiating movie salaries blatantly said, ok Steve gets $5M because he’s a man and Emma gets $3M because she’s a woman, would the correct recourse be for him to give $1M to her? It seems in that situation the proper thing to do would be to sue the studio for blatant discrimination. 
 
If the studio was less obvious about their rationales for the difference, then perhaps the next option would be for Stone’s team to renegotiate for a higher salary. Actually, this is probably what happened and the studio probably responded that it couldn’t or wouldn’t go higher. So if the studio didn’t care to sacrifice to get Stone paid more, why should her male costar? Also why couldn’t she just walk away until she got what she was worth? This doesn’t seem to be a sustainable course of negotiating (but maybe indicates why she has starred in multiple films with Gosling and Carrell?).
 
I don’t like this idea that it’s somehow incumbent on the male costar to renegotiate on Stone’s behalf. Or that she should always get paid the same as her male costars and is willing to sacrifice HIS salary to show that. 
The future implications of this method seem unclear. In the future, if a movie casts Emma Stone and a male actor, will Stone’s team lie on their butts while the male actor’s team does the hard negotiating, knowing they will get half of their negotiations? Will Stone refuse to work with actors who accept higher paychecks? Would Stone cede some of her salary for a studio to have enough room in their budget to lure a bigger name actor?
I do believe that Stone is correct in that the higher negotiated pay did change her life. But she could have likely done that by making a greater case for her bankability as a star. I think the real path to greater pay for women is coming up with a great negotiating team, making your own productions, and/or developing such a following and/or being such a bankable star that the studios are fighting to win you over. (See, e.g., The Rock). 
If Stone teams up with bigger names, even if she gets paid less, she could expand her celebrity (like James McAvoy did in Wanted when he was paid far less than star Angelina Jolie but showed his action cred). If she teams up with much smaller names, she can show that she’s the bankable star (like Angelina Jolie did by carrying the movie Wanted when her male costar was unknown James McAvoy). Though I’m not a fan, Angelina Jolie is a great example of building up her cred as a movie star. She got paid half as much as Brad Pitt for Mr. and Mrs. Smith but her string of successes is undeniable.
Compare that with millenial actress, Jennifer Lawrence, who made waves for speaking out about not getting paid as much as her male counterparts. Then Lawrence was reportedly paid $20 million for her part in Passengers, while her male costar, equally famous Chris Pratt, was paid $12 million. (Part of the reason she was paid so much was as a mea culpa for the the Sony email hack showed many actresses getting paid less than their male costars). So now she has taken the mantle as the movie’s star and the movie….broke even. I’m not sure how this goes in the future. It was a bit of a test (or some would say, a trap) for both young actors as neither had much experience carrying a blockbuster movie without a big brand or other big-name actors behind it. Had they both been paid less, the movie had a better chance of being a success and their large paydays would have a better chance of surviving. Caring first about pay, rather than about the success of the movie, may not be a winning strategy and may not be viewed as favorably in the future by movies studios. 
You can imagine that a company would be wary of employing a CEO who was paid outlandishly and failed to perform in the past.  Both Stone and Lawrence are in their mid-20s and they are acting with actors in their late 30s and older. I’m not saying they shouldn’t ask for more, but jumping straight for your male costar’s salary doesn’t strike me as “fair” or even “smart.” It doesn’t seem like the way to equality for women or the way for Stone to command the highest salaries in the future. I think that any actor who is integral to a movie’s success will certainly get his or her payday.
What do you think? Is this the path to pay equality? Also, and more pressing, should both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have taken pay cuts for subjecting us to their mediocre singing and dancing in La La Land?
 
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6 thoughts on “Would you reduce your own pay for “equality?”

  1. I think this is a difficult thing to discern in the arts because you’re right. Star power = $$$ and if you’re going to make a film more money, then you are providing the movie studio a greater value than a lesser known co-star.

    However, I do also think there’s a work aspect that’s overlooked. Are they both putting in a similar number of hours of work to get the job done? Then that does seem like a fair argument for equal pay. I mean, movie studios also have a wide variety of movie stars they can pick from. Why only pick a big name male lead? Pick two arguably “equal” leads in scope of their fame and resume credits and pay them the same.

    I also don’t think Steve Carrell taking a pay cut was in any way a way to make things equal. If this were about equality, the studio should contract them at the same rate. Why lower the pay of everyone to the lowest common demoninator and just allow the businesses/movie studios to rake in more overall then?

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    1. That’s an interesting point. I guess I wonder though if a movie studio would put a premium on longer hours when fewer hours would do.

      I think Steve Carrell was likely taking the pay cut for equality purposes but you’re right in that it definitely needs to start at the studio level.

      Thanks for reading!

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  2. You do know the tennis thing really happened right? Billie Jean king vs Bobby Riggs. I mean you’d have to be a milinial not to know that, right?

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    1. I didn’t know about it beforehand but I could tell it was a real story. If it were a work of fiction, Riggs would have had to have been much younger to make it compelling.

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  3. Younger and nicer both would have been required although there always was some controversy concerning if Riggs was really that big a jerk or if he was just playing the whole thing up to generate some buzz. It certainly didn’t hurt Billie Jean King’s career or professional tennis at all.

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  4. I think if Hollywood actors/actresses want to get equal pay that they’ll probably have to negotiate together like the cast of Friends did. Otherwise I have a feeling this will probably remain.

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