20 actresses who spoke out about pay equality
Women aren’t making All the Money in the World
The drama surrounding Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World didn’t end with the shocking erasure of Kevin Spacey from the movie. Following its release, the film became embroiled in controversy when reports emerged that Mark Wahlberg earned 1,500 times Michelle Williams’ paycheck for the costly reshoots required to replace Spacey with Christopher Plummer. Williams herself has not yet commented on the pay discrepancy, but many stars have expressed their indignation on social media. “Please go see Michelle’s performance in All the Money in the World,” tweeted Jessica Chastain. “She’s a brilliant Oscar nominated, Golden Globe winning actress. She’s been in the industry for 20 yrs. She deserves more than 1% of her male costar’s salary.”
“This is totally unacceptable,” Amber Tamblyn chimed in, and Mia Farrow added her perspective: “Outrageously unfair- but it’s always been like this. I was never, ever paid even a quarter of what the male lead received.”
It's a familiar refrain. Read on for 20 actresses who have spoken out about wage inequality in Hollywood.
At the end of 2017, E! News host Catt Sadler left the network after learning that her cohost Jason Kennedy “was making double my salary and has been for several years.” She hoped to negotiate and stay on, but decided not to because E! “didn’t come close — nowhere close, not even remotely close” to matching Kennedy’s salary. “It’s almost insulting because you know you work really hard,” Sadler told PEOPLE. “I’m a single mom of two kids. I’ve given my all to this network. I’ve sacrificed time away from my family and I have dedicated my entire career to this network. And when you learn something like that, it makes you feel very small and underappreciated and undervalued.”
The network issued a statement saying “E! compensates employees fairly and appropriately based on their roles, regardless of gender.” Network chief Frances Berwick also addressed the controversy at the Television Critics Association’s press tour, saying, “There is a lot of misinformation out there,” and noting that “Catt Sadler and Jason Kennedy had different roles and therefore different salaries.” Sadler responded: “My experience, frustration and disparity was based on Jason Kennedy and myself being apples to apples.”
The women of Hollywood took note, and backed up Sadler. Many actresses, including Debra Messing, Amy Schumer, Jennifer Lawrence, and Reese Witherspoon and Eva Longoria, expressed their support for the TV host — some of them during interviews on the Golden Globes’ red carpet, airing on E! itself.
Recently, as part of TIME Firsts, Oprah Winfrey revealed that she’s been fighting to close the gender wage gap for decades. “I built the show around myself and the producers,” the icon said about The Oprah Winfrey Show. “We were young women in our 30s trying to figure it out and find our own way.” But while Winfrey made a lot of money, her producers’ salaries stayed the same, so she approached her boss demanding a raise for her team. “He actually said to me, ‘They’re only girls. They’re a bunch of girls. What do they need more money for?’” she recalled in the TIME video. “I go, ‘Well, either they’re gonna get raises or I’m gonna sit down. I will not work unless they get paid.’ And so they did.”
When Charlize Theron found out she was making less than her costar Chris Hemsworth on The Huntsman: Winter’s War, the 2016 sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, she reportedly negotiated for their salaries to match — an increase of more than $10 million. “I have to give them credit because once I asked, they said yes. They did not fight it. And maybe that’s the message: That we just need to put our foot down,” Theron told Elle UK in the summer of 2015. “This is a good time for us to bring this to a place of fairness, and girls need to know that being a feminist is a good thing. It doesn’t mean that you hate men. It means equal rights. If you’re doing the same job, you should be compensated and treated in the same way.” She’s hopeful that the system is changing: “Movies like Wonder Woman succeeding takes the option away from studios,” she said at Comic-Con in 2017.
Priyanka Chopra — who would be a great Bond, by the way — opened up about the wage gap and other symptoms of Hollywood’s cruel sexism in a 2017 Glamour cover story. “It’s a scary place,” she told the magazine. “I was told that female actors are replaceable in films because they just stand behind a guy anyway. I’m still used to being paid — like most actresses around the world — a lot less than the boys.” But she has hope for the future, and encouraging words for women who feel invisible. “It’ll be scary. There will be strife. But women have incredible endurance and incredible strength. Your ability to deal with it is within you.”
The comedian and actress made headlines after an August 2017 Variety story on pay equality claimed Schumer asked for more money from Netflix for her special, The Leather Special, after it was reported Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle earned $20 million for their specials.
"I believe women deserve equal pay," Schumer wrote in response to critics online. "However, I don't believe I deserve equal pay to Chris and Dave. They are legends and 2 of the greatest comics of all time. I would like to say that I have been selling out arenas these last couple years. Something a female comic has never done. That's a big deal to me, especially because I know I do my best every night on stage for the audience and they have a good time. I didn't ask for the same as my friends. I did ask for more than the initial offer. I will continue to work my ass off and be the best performer I can be. The reports of me 'demanding' or 'insisting' on equal pay to them aren't a true."
In an interview with Out to promote the movie Battle of the Sexes, which details Billie Jean King's legendary tennis match with Bobby Riggs, actress Emma Stone said she's experienced her male costars taking a "pay cut" so that she could have "parity with them."
"That's something they do for me because they feel it's what's right and fair," Stone, who plays King in the film, said. "That’s something that's also not discussed, necessarily — that our getting equal pay is going to require people to selflessly say, 'That's what's fair.'"
She continued: "If my male costar, who has a higher quote than me but believes we are equal, takes a pay cut so that I can match him, that changes my quote in the future and changes my life. And this is Billie Jean’s feminism, and I love it — she is equality, man: equality, equality, equality."
Natalie Portman, No Strings Attached
In 2017, Natalie Portman went on the record about the wage disparity in her 2011 friends-with-benefits rom-com No Strings Attached. The Oscar winner was billed first on the Ivan Reitman-directed movie, but “Ashton Kutcher was paid three times as much as me,” Portman said. “I mean, we get paid a lot, so it’s hard to complain. But the disparity is crazy. I remember talking to Ruth Bader Ginsburg about it. Compared to men, in most professions, women make 80 cents to the dollar. In Hollywood, we are making 30 cents to the dollar.”
Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams, American Hustle
The 2014 Sony hack revealed a lot of things that embarrassed the studio — not the least of which was the significant disparity between its female actors’ and employees’ salaries and those of their male counterparts. Among the many pay gap revelations in the hack was that, on David O. Russell’s American Hustle, actresses Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams — despite being the cast’s biggest box-office draw and having one of the biggest roles, respectively — were given significantly smaller back-end deals than Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and Jeremy Renner. Lawrence led the charge of women speaking out against the wage gap with an essay published in Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter. “I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight. I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled,’” she wrote. “I’m over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable! F--- that. I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what angle he should use to have his voice heard. It’s just heard.”
For her part, Adams prefers to avoid the conversation. When the wage gap came up in The Hollywood Reporter’s roundtable interview of this year’s Best Actress contenders, she said, “Who you should be asking is the Producer Roundtable: ‘Do you think minorities are underrepresented? Do you think women are underpaid?’”
Diane Keaton, Something's Gotta Give
Diane Keaton didn’t give an incendiary interview about her unequal pay for 2003’s Something’s Gotta Give; she just wrote the injustice into her memoir. In her book Then Again, the actress explained that she didn’t get a back-end for the Nancy Meyers rom-com, though her co-star Jack Nicholson, in a smaller role, did. When Nicholson heard about the disparity, he wrote Keaton a check from his earnings.
Meryl Streep isn’t shy about using her platform as one of the world’s most respected actresses to speak her mind — just look at her speech at this year’s Golden Globes — and she’s commented on the wage gap, as well. She told Time in 2016 that she’s glad men have joined the conversation: “Men are ashamed that they’re getting that money,” she said. “It used to be, everybody didn’t say anything about it, so it was kind of fine. Now they’re a little more nervous that somebody will find out what they make vis-a-vis their co-star. That’s the best vigilance: the vigilance of privilege. People will always be battling and whining about it. When the other side says, ‘You know, I think that sucks’ — that’s great.”
Gwyneth Paltrow, Iron Man
Spider-Man: Homecoming costar Gwyneth Paltrow chimed in on the matter in 2015, saying in an interview, “Your salary is a way to quantify what you’re worth. If men are paid a lot more for doing the same thing, it feels sh--y,” and named her role as Pepper Potts in the Iron Man films as a personal example. “Nobody is worth the money that Robert Downey Jr. is worth,” Paltrow conceded. “But if I told you the disparity, you would probably be surprised.”
Amanda Seyfried put in her two cents (or, perhaps more accurately, her 0.2 cents) when she said in 2015, “A few years ago, on one of my big-budget films, I found I was being paid 10 percent of what my male co-star was getting, and we were pretty even in status.” She didn’t name the film or the co-star, but the disparity is staggering regardless. “I think people think because I’m easygoing and game to do things, I’ll just take as little as they offer. But it’s not about how much you get, it’s about how fair it is."
Patricia Arquette made headlines when she accepted her Oscar in 2015, for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Boyhood, and used her time at the podium to speak out on the pay gap. “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America,” she said, as Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez cheered her on. A year later, on Equal Pay Day, she addressed the issue again: “Women have been fighting for equal rights for 227 years, and at this point now we’ve reached a breaking point,” Arquette said. “It costs the average woman almost half a million dollars over her lifetime, the gender pay gap.”
The controversial Kathy Griffin spoke candidly to Variety in 2015 about her experience on the wrong side of the gender wage gap as a female comedian. “I can’t even remember a time when I wasn’t in a situation where my male counterparts didn’t make more money than I did,” she told the magazine. “I’ve never been paid what the guys get.” Going into detail about how she’s fought for equal pay at every stage of her career, Griffin said, “I take my f---ing awards and accomplishments, and I bring them to the table” — sometimes literally, bringing her Emmys to meetings. “I think it’s part of the male industrial complex to keep women quiet about what their salaries are. If the guys make more, I guarantee you they are told to shut up and not tell the girls.”
Following Jennifer Lawrence’s essay about the pay gap among the stars of American Hustle, Jessica Chastain spoke about the need for equality as well. “There’s no reason why [an actress such as Lawrence] should be doing a film with other actors and get paid less than her male co-stars,” Chastain said. “It’s completely unfair. It’s not right. It’s been happening for years and years and years. I think it’s brave to talk about it. I think everyone should talk about it.”
Basic Instinct made Sharon Stone a star, but that didn’t mean studios were ready to pay her a star’s salary. “After Basic Instinct, no one wanted to pay me,” Stone said in a 2015 interview. “I remember sitting in my kitchen with my manager and just crying and saying I’m not going to work until I get paid.” When she finally did get a paycheck, “I still got paid so much less than any men,” she said. Of course, the wage gap exists across all industries and careers, not just in Hollywood, and Stone said change “has to start with regular pay, not just for movie stars, but regular pay for the regular woman in the regular job.” She described the disparity as “a sort of economic blackmail.”
Noted feminist, beloved Gryffindor, U.N. Goodwill Ambassador, and Disney Princess Emma Watson has spoken out countless times about gender equality, and the wage gap is among the many issues she’s addressed. “We are not supposed to talk about money because people will think you're ‘difficult’ or a ‘diva,’” the actress told Esquire U.K. in 2016. “But there's a willingness now to be like, ‘Fine. Call me a 'diva', call me a 'feminazi', call me 'difficult', call me a ‘First World feminist', call me whatever you want, it's not going to stop me from trying to do the right thing and make sure that the right thing happens.’ Because it doesn't just affect me, it affects all the other women who are in this with me, and it affects all the other men who are in this with me, too.”
Rooney Mara joined the chorus decrying the wage gap in 2015, and added that it’s not just the unfair pay, but also the unfair perception of women who fight for equality that bothers her. “To me, the thing that’s more unfair than the pay is the terminology that’s used to describe actresses who have a point of view, and want to have a voice in their life and their career, and what they choose to do,” Mara said. “I’ve been called horrible things. If a man was acting in the same way that I was acting, it would just be considered normal. To me, that’s the thing I find so frustrating is calling women spoiled brats and bitches. We just want to have a voice in our life.”
The wage gap isn’t limited to screen roles: In 2015, Sienna Miller spoke about pay inequality in the stage realm as well. The actress said she turned down a role in a two-person Broadway show for which she was offered less than half of her male co-star’s salary. “If it was two men, it wouldn’t probably happen,” she said, adding that the producer “wouldn’t pay me within a million miles of what the male actor was being paid. And women always have to do more publicity than the men. The only way is to make a stand. We are going to have to make sacrifices to make change. I want to turn up and feel dignified."