Reel Wages: The Gender Pay Gap in Hollywood Continues
Views 24 | Time to read: 3 minutes | Uploaded: 3 - 27 - 2018 | By: Nicci Carrasco
Netflix recently let it slip that Claire Foy, who stars in the series The Crown, was paid significantly less than her on-screen husband played by Matt Smith. Since the show centers around the life of Queen Elizabeth II and her effect on the world, an online eruption over the reveal was nothing short of anticipated. The responses exude feelings of betrayal from an entertainment company that has made significant strides in the promotion of equal representation on screen for women and people of color-- two groups that have been continually marginalized by the industry. It has given a visual voice to the ignored by producing shows that revolve around more profound topics such as the corruption of prison systems seen in Orange is the New Black and the rise of hip-hop and surrounding culture seen in The Get Down. These shows are not only groundbreaking in direction and portrayal but also through the serious topics that undergird their plots. Previously these weighty topics and perspectives had remained untouched by the television networks to which we we conventionally subscribe. Despite the company’s innovative nature, Netflix has succumbed to the cardinal sin of the gender pay gap.
Crimes against women and people of color (Re: #MeToo, #TimesUp, #OscarsSoWhite movements) cripple the entertainment industry. It is an industry that is rife with sexism, racism, and capitalism. In our current age, the entertainment industry walks on thin ice with artists, activists, and journalists carefully awaiting the next offense to use as fodder to further their revolution.
The pay gap between Foy and Smith is undeniably questionable since the series features Foy as its titular character with the most lines, screen time, and costume changes. The company’s principal argument, made by producer Suzanne Mackie, is Smith’s fame at the time of casting and its intention to make amends so that in the future “no one gets paid more than the Queen.” While the former appears potentially justifiable, the systemic discrimination against women in significant roles in Hollywood is irrefutable.
At the 2015 Cinthemaque Awards, actress Reese Witherspoon called out the underrepresentation of women in Hollywood. She stated, “Women make up 50% of the population, and we should be playing 50% of the roles on the screen.” Thus, Witherspoon problematized the lack of opportunity for female leads-- a problem worse for women of color. In her 2015 Emmy award acceptance speech for the hit TV series How to Get Away with Murder, lead actress Viola Davis captured the obstacles that women of color face in the industry. She stated, “the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity… you cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” This understanding begs the question: Within a precarious industry that limits women, how possible was it for Foy to obtain professional experience equivalent to Smith’s? Furthermore, in the framework upheld in Hollywood that compels entertainment companies such as Netflix to abide by an actor’s baseline price for their appearance, is it possible that they are just playing the game? Are companies like Netflix innocent in their subjection to navigate the industry as those before them have? Or is there another way forward, one that a company with as much financial and social capital as Netflix could pursue?