Female film stars deserve to be paid what they are worth

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Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence made headlines last week when she published an essay on Lenny Letter, Lena Dunham’s newsletter, that called attention to one of the biggest issues in the job market today: the gender pay gap. Women and men are equally talented, which is why neither should be valued over the other. The fact that a woman with a larger role on a production is paid less than a man with a significantly smaller role is illogical and unjustifiable.

Lawrence explained that in the wake of the 2014 Sony hack, she was disheartened to see how much less she was paid for her performance in “American Hustle” in comparison to her male co-stars. She also described how she felt it was her own fault for not negotiating more aggressively earlier, out of fear that the industry would label her a “brat.” In the essay, Lawrence asserted that it was time for women to stop trying to convey their beliefs in a charming and subdued way.

She is right to highlight women’s plight within the job market. If pay discrimination affects the world’s highest paid actress, it is, without a doubt, affecting women on the low end of the employment scale, and most likely more severely.

Hollywood has taken advantage of women employed in all areas of the film industry. Forbes calculated that the highest paid female actresses in 2013 made 40 cents for every dollar made by their male colleagues. A year later, Sandra Bullock was the highest paid actress in Hollywood, earning $51 million. Still, that salary set her far behind the highest paid actor, Robert Downey Jr., who earned $75 million in the same year. Columbia Pictures has both male and female presidents, yet Michael De Luca makes almost $1 million more than his collaborator, Hannah Mighella, for doing the exact same job.

Women’s wages are significantly lower whether they are working in front of or behind the camera. But creativity is not gender specific. Furthermore, women can act in, direct and write films just as well as men, and their sex shouldn’t prevent their projects from being funded. The industry needs women, so it is time for Hollywood to properly value their female employees.

Lawrence’s essay is poignant and draws attention to a problem plaguing women, but she failed to mention that the ever-present gender gap widens for women of color, including those in Hollywood. While a white woman in the United States makes, on average, 78 cents to every white man’s dollar, women of color make even less. Black women make about 65 cents to a white man’s dollar and Latina women make 54 cents to every white man’s dollar.

Women of color in Hollywood are not only at a monetary disadvantage; they also lack the opportunities only available to men. This year, Viola Davis made history as the first African-American woman to win the Emmy in the Best Actress in a Drama category. In her acceptance speech, Davis noted that women of color couldn’t win these awards if they were not offered roles at all. More often than not, these women are typecast based on their race, or, as Davis pointed out, the roles often aren’t even there. Latina actress Lupe Ontiveros played a maid in 150 different productions even though she was capable of far more complex roles.

Women of color are at a severe disadvantage for success because they are not operating under the same circumstances as their white or male peers. They are serious and talented thespians, yet no one is looking past the color of their skin.

Women earn less than men in nearly every field, yet in Hollywood the impact is more severe. White men still dominate Hollywood’s higher-salaried and executive positions. The entertainment industry has an important impact on society. If some of the most influential and affluent women in the world are discriminated against, the rest of the women in the workforce have little source for hope. Considering Lawrence’s large following, her speaking out about unequal pay can hopefully speed up the process of correcting this issue. Women are just as capable as men and should, without question, have the same opportunities and compensation.

Sydney Hemmendinger is an undeclared sophomore. She can be reached at hemmendinger@oxy.edu.