Yesterday The Hollywood Reporter released their studio executive roundtable, an hour-long conversation between the heads of five out of six of the Big Six studios, plus Lionsgate’s Rob Friedman. (Why is Warner Brothers not here?) Of the six execs, two are women—Universal’s Donna Langley, and Fox’s Stacey Snider. Also at the table were Tom Rothman, who took over Sony after Amy Pascal was canned following the Sony Hack; Alan Horn from Disney; and Rob Moore from Paramount, who looks miserable. Maybe because Paramount isn’t having a great year, or maybe he has resting bitch face. Either way, he looks annoyed throughout.
The first topic is Jennifer Lawrence. They talk about the wage discrepancy revealed on American Hustle and JLaw’s pay gap essay in Lenny, and the execs spend thirteen of their fifty-nine minutes talking about it. I can’t do that math off the top of my head, but that’s a fair chunk of the roundtable spent talking about Jennifer Lawrence. This was brought to our attention by a reader named Amy, and I’ll quote her here: “[…] Jennifer Lawrence wrote an essay and now the most powerful people in her industry have to answer to it. […] I knew she was a big deal, I guess I didn't realize what a BIG DEAL she actually is.”
Yes, they do, and yes, she is. Lawrence is the only newly minted Movie Star in the last decade—RDJ already had status before levelling up to capital letters—and she’s one of the few young actors who is both widely admired critically and commercially. Jennifer Lawrence is as close to a sure thing as it gets, and now that she’s a little more seasoned, she’s embracing the power of her position and becoming more assertive. Which means that the people who pay her will now have to deal with one of the most powerful women in the industry realizing that she is one of the most powerful women in the industry.
And they’re not super happy about it. There’s a level of obvious discomfort that has nothing to do with gender, it’s purely about executives not wanting to discuss salaries this openly. But thanks to the Sony Hack, and Lawrence pushing the issue, it’s out there and now they have to address it. Rob Moore puts it this way: “Jennifer Lawrence was looking at a very specific piece of information. But a lot of times it is about what people’s quotes have been in the past. She was obviously on the rise with a lot of other people who’d been in different movies before. So there’s a combination of your current market value and what your history had been to that point.”
The problem with discussing the wage gap in Hollywood, specifically, is that there is a real component of relativity at play. The lead will always get more than the supporting actor, and status and star power matters. Considering that she had a smaller role, which means working less days on the movie, Lawrence shouldn’t be measuring her salary against Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper, who were the leads. But Jeremy Renner, who also had a smaller part? Yeah, that’s fair.
And the assertion that Lawrence was on the rise and thus deserved less is a crock of sh*t. Hustle filmed in early 2013, after Lawrence won an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook (and already had one nomination under her belt), after X-Men: First Class and The Hunger Games were a hit. At the very, very least, she was as established as Renner at the time she was negotiating her contract. The only difference between them is that he was a forty-two year old man and she was a twenty-two year old woman. And he made millions more than her. This math I can do—that’s bullsh*t. The execs know there’s an unfair imbalance in actor wages, and the old rationalizations and excuses aren’t going to hold up anymore. They’re going to have to talk about it with the public and they’re going to deal with it at the negotiating table. All because Jennifer Lawrence wrote an essay.