There really is nothing like show business…The phenomenon of fame and the prospects of incomprehensible sums of money change our world constantly.
Finance, religion, media, fashion, music, and other trends swiftly and mercilessly sway by the tide of the entertainment industry. It should not be surprising to us that problems that arise from Hollywood’s day-to-day business are the most painful and extreme of our social problems. Hollywood is the culmination of societal extreme itself.
The smallest tremors in the balance of high society, particularly in Hollywood, can cause the most massive of disasters. Last November, at the height of the the cascading revelations of sexual abuse, rape, exploitation and other horrors from many men in power in all industries, something incredible happened:
The smallest of public relations blunders instantly destroyed a 20 year career of the highest regard. After Kevin Spacey had been accused of sexual misconduct towards minors on sets of his historic film productions, he came out as a gay man in an effort to explain his behavior. If we were to be extremely generous with understanding his purpose, we would say that he was implying that his closeted homosexuality was his reason for his erratic and awful activities, that he could not manage to hide his inner terror due to his secret. True or not, this is the twenty-first century, and while such an excuse might have been graciously accepted in the 1850’s or 1950’s, today we know better.
Accordingly and fittingly, Spacey was severely condemned by the LGBTQ community for horrendous timing and for re-accentuating a dangerous myth about gay men and pedophilia.
And the next day, his career was finished.
Creative Artists Agency ended their relationships with Spacey and he was removed from Ridley Scott’s biographical film All the Money In The World. His future prospects for work look dim indeed.
The above scenario lends a small yet credible implication that sexism in Hollywood is less pervasive than it used to be. If sexual orientation is meaningless, then sexual gender should seemingly be also in decline. Obviously, things are more complicated than this. Continuing on the aftereffects of the Spacey situation, ten days of reshoots were commissioned with Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Williams and Christopher Plummer in a film whom the latter was replacing an ousted Spacey. For those few days Williams was paid $800 and Wahlberg $1.5 million.
This massive difference sparked public outrage.
Yet it was later revealed that gender sexism had nothing to do with it whatsoever. Williams was contractually bonded to appear in reshoots, while Wahlberg was not. Producers needed to act quickly in order to salvage the film and Wahlberg held them hostage. Also over last 10 years, Wahlberg has done everything he could to join cream of the crop of the small group of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood’s while Williams has done a conscious effort to grow as an artist and find the best roles possible.
On the other hand, there is some pretty blatant evidence of pure gender sexism. Of the top 10 best payed actors and actresses in Hollywood there are zero women. Yup you heard well. Zero.
In 2017 only three actresses made more than $20 million. Emma Stone, who won an Oscar for her performance in “La La Land,” is currently the world top-ranked actress with $26 million in salary. However she is out-earned by 14 male actors and made less than 2.5 times of the $68 million Wahlberg made. Stone is ranking number 15 far behind Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel, Adam Sandler, Jackie Chan, Robert Downey Jr and Tom Cruise who all made well over $40 million.
As always, the answer lies in a combination of factors, sexism being one of them. The nature and genre of blockbusters, the box-office’s hunger for raw physicality, age-gapism, the difference between male and female personality traits and finally traditional male-dominated American business culture have significant contributions to the gender skew.
Box-Office & Ageism?
The box-office dominance of superhero movies and action blockbusters partially explains the gender pay gap since it does create a lack of highest paying roles for older women. In the list of top-10 actresses, the oldest actress is Julia Roberts at 49 years old. Whereas three of the male top-10 are aged 50 or over. Tom Cruise is 55, Robert Downey Jr. is 52 and Jackie Chan is 63! [Ed. Note: Jeez… time flies)
“Age, Gender, and Compensation: A Study of Hollywood Movie Stars” is a 2014 study published in the Journal of Management Inquiry. It concluded that salaries and the amount of available roles for female stars increases until they reach 34, then rapidly falls. For male actors, the peak earning age is 51, without almost any decline in wages after that. According to another 2016 study, women comprise only 25% of roles for characters over the age of 40, an ageism and shortage of opportunities not facing Hollywood’s leading men.
The question now is: Since there are less action characters for women that pay the massive profits due to the nature and low availability of leading roles with high levels of physicality , would this therefore mean that a woman will have throughout their career purely due to Supply and Demand? In other words when an actor gets into a dramatic role after having a blockbuster movie will his pay check be adjusted irrelevantly of their sex?
The answer seems to be: Not really.
During the post-apocalyptic Hunger Games paydays in 2014, Jennifer Lawrence made $52 million. She made as much money as Wahlberg and Johnson did in 2017. But even then Lawrence made $28 million less than the world’s highest-paid actor of 2014, Robert Downey Jr. who took home over $80 million. Also the 2014 Sony hack (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sony_Pictures_hack) revealed that Lawrence was paid less than Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper for the 2013 American black comedy-crime film American Hustle. She was paid 7% of the future profits as opposed to the 9% her male co-stars and director David O Russell. That paycheck disparity came after Lawrence mega success in major blockbusters that included the 2011 X-Men: First Class that generated over $350 million. Normally a series of giant box office draws should have put Lawrence at the same salary levels as Cooper but didn’t.
After the Sony leak went public Lawrence published an essay (https://us11.campaign-archive.com/?u=a5b04a26aae05a24bc4efb63e&id=64e6f35176&e=fe292e1416#wage) for Lena Dunham’s feminist blog Lenny, where she asked “Why do I make less than my male co-stars?”
The answer can be encapsulated in her quote: “When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks, I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early.”
The above quote resonated well with data that came out of sociological studies over the last 10 years that investigated whether personality traits could have contributed to the gender wage gaps. The role of the so called Big Five personality traits (extraversion, emotional stability, agreeableness, openness intellect and conscientiousness) have been associated with earnings discrepancies that exists in virtually every occupation. Christina Hoff-Sommers, American scholar and contributor to The New York Times and The Atlantic pointed out several times (http://www.aei.org/publication/the-gender-wage-gap-) to the multivariate analyses that concluded that personality type, not sex, influences the potential for making money. Enjoyable, pleasant and agreeable people make generally less money than dominant and extraverted ones.
But things are changing in Hollywood. Women now know they have to negotiate more aggressively and the public is slowly turning towards strong female characters. In fact the 2017 box-office was dominated by movies with female roles that truly emerged as the new action heroes of cinema. In 2017 the three top-grossing films featured women in the lead roles: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” with Daisy Ridley took $533 million in domestic ticket sales by the end of 2017. “Beauty and the Beast” with Emma Watson took $504 million and “Wonder Woman” with Gal Gadot, $412.6 million. Not to say that so far, the top grossing movie of 2018 is The Black Panther which narrative is driven by three strong female characters. The future looks very bright for women indeed. Actually, men are in trouble.