The pandemic has disproportionately affected women in the workforce.
2020 has been an awful year for any progress made toward pay equity because of the pandemic. It feels like a lot of important causes have gotten off track, and it's important to keep them in the forefront because otherwise, they fall to the wayside.
The Hollywood Reporter recently did a deep dive into the idea of pay equity and parity in Hollywood.
Let's go over some of their findings.
Let's start with the story that seems to have broken this idea for the mainstream. Mark Wahlberg was paid nearly 10 times more than co-star Michelle Williams for All the Money in the World, despite commanding roughly equal screen time. Even worse, she was paid about $1,000 for reshoots while he received $1.5 million (which he ultimately donated to TimesUp).
This was one of the first big news stories within Hollywood that broke down the numbers for the general public.
And it was the first step for people within the industry coming to terms with the idea that change needed to happen.
Obviously, Hollywood is a complicated place where a lot of fees are negotiated by agents and lawyers. But the degree in the gap of money is indicative of an overall mindset that needs to be readjusted.
Here's the headline from The Hollywood Reporter: "Despite some progress, not much has changed since 2018 — and now the industry is not only navigating the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has held up Hollywood productions and reduced job opportunities nationwide, but also is coming to terms with systemic racism after a summer of Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death."
But there is some good news.
New state laws in California and New York prevent employers from asking potential new hires about their pay history. "This has allowed us to break the cycle of institutionalized pay inequity embodied in the 'quote system,'" says talent attorney Jodi Peikoff, whose clients include Mark Rylance and America Ferrera. "The fees of clients who are women or people of color have dramatically increased, although often still not at a true market value."
These laws are a huge deal because it can maybe standardize what studios pay people of all genders, but that's a big maybe.
At the end of the day, a lot rests on the agents, managers, and lawyers pushing for their clients. Because studios are always going to try to pay people less. Linda Lichter, who reps directors Niki Caro and Chloé Zhao, said "I’ve been in situations where I’ve been able to say, 'Men who’ve done this for you coming from a similar level have been paid X. Why are you offering my client half X?...I think the climate is definitely better for getting women and people of color hired. Is it parity? No, but it’s definitely better."
But this all sounds good?
Well here is the loophole that's making things even messier.
What happens if you have already worked with the studio? That means they've set your quote internally and may never offer you more.
This happened to Crazy Rich Asians screenwriter Adele Lim. She walked away from writing the sequel because Warner Bros. offered her significantly less than her white male co-writer. What's significantly less?
According to The Hollywood Reporter insiders, she was offered a little over $100K when he was offered around $1 million.
"I wrote Crazy Rich Asians for next to nothing because I was friends with Jon Chu," Lim says. "This was the only project in my entire career that spoke to the culture that I grew up in. It was a labor of love. Because it was Warner Bros. and they’re the ones that foot the bill, they’re aware of what they paid."
Lim was treated like a novice because she had only one feature under her belt, but that feature was a huge hit. And she only took the cheaper quote at the start to work with a friend.
To his credit, Lim’s co-writer, Peter Chiarelli, offered to split his fee so she could have equity, but she says that’s not the answer. It should not be writers taking from each other. That's not the real narrative. It should be studios and companies paying fairly.
Allyship is wonderful and so important, but this is about individual worth.
One of the ways this is making itself present in contacts is the line "provided no one else is making more."
For instance, your contract might say, "Yes, I'll accept $50K as my fee provided no one else is making more..."
This has made parity a legal issue. Can the studio knowingly sign this if they are paying someone else more? We're learning the answers to these questions in real-time. So much of this is in flux, that's why it is important to keep it in the headlines. When there is an event like the pandemic, issues like this take a backseat.
But as we pull ourselves out of it we want to see a better Hollywood.
Not the one we promised to leave behind.