Agent Scully and the Hollywood Wage Gap

In late 2014, the Sony Pictures email hack revealed a substantial gender-based pay gap. Of the most notable revelations was that Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence was paid substantially less than her male co-stars for her role in American Hustle. The hack also revealed that Hannah Minghella, co-president of Columbia Pictures, earns almost $1 million less per year than her male counterpart, Michael de Luca, despite the fact that the two perform the exact same job.

Two years later, it appears that Hollywood’s approach to the pay gap has not changed. The X-Files star Gillian Anderson recently revealed that Fox initially offered her half of the compensation that it offered to co-star David Duchovny for this year’s series reboot. This was particularly appalling considering that Anderson had fought for and ultimately secured equal pay for the same role in the ’90s hit series initial run. Throughout the show’s initial run, Anderson won an Emmy award, a Golden Globe, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and a Saturn award for her role as Agent Scully. She has remained a sought-after actress, continuing to bank roles in high profile television and movie dramas since The X-Files first went off the air. Yet when it came time to negotiate compensation, for a co-starring role, Fox made her an offer barely suited for an inexperienced sidekick.

Jennifer Lawrence wrote an opinion piece for Lena Dunham’s online magazine Lenny in which she explains that “there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight.” She described the common problem women face where if they negotiate too strongly, they are perceived as mean or overly aggressive. On the other hand, if they do not negotiate aggressively, they are perceived as weak. Some even claim that actresses like Lawrence should simply be grateful that they are getting paid seven figures in the first place. Lawrence placed much of the blame on herself for giving in to the double standard and not negotiating aggressively enough.

While Hollywood’s approach has stagnated, it appears that female A-listers like Anderson and Lawrence have decided to take matters into their own hands. Gillian Anderson held firm on her equal pay demands and ultimately Fox gave her what she wanted. Jennifer Lawrence, meanwhile, negotiated a deal worth $8 million more than her male co-star Chris Pratt for their upcoming film Passengers. The message, at least from these two actresses, is that executives can think whatever they want, but if they want A-list talent on their projects, they’re going to have to pay for it.

John McKnight

John McKnight enjoys understanding and then exposing the complicated frauds that the whistleblowers he represents identify as a part of the qui tam cases he litigates out of the DC office of Sanford Heisler, LLP.  John spends his free time learning to speak Mandarin (although his wife speaks Thai), managing his fantasy football and basketball teams, and engaging in staring contests with his two cats (sometimes he even wins).

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