During the Sundance weekend, out came a stunning revelation of how Hollywood actor Jessica Chastain helped her fellow actor Octavia Spencer make the same amount of money for an acting assignment. Why? Because it’s 2018 for godsake! And where we’re speaking about equal pay for all genders, it’s only a given that actors of colour are at the same table as their white counterparts. Participating in a panel called Women Breaking Barriers at Sundance 2018, Spencer spoke about how she made the acquaintance of Chastain on the sets of The Help.
And about a year ago, Chastain approached her to star in a comedy. They met and discussed the prevalent wage gap between men and women, when Spencer brought upon the harsh realities of being an African-American actor in Hollywood.
We were dropping f-bombs and getting it all out there. And then I said, “But here’s the thing: Women of color on that spectrum, make far less than white women. So if we’re gonna have that conversation about pay equity, we gotta bring the women of color to the table.” And I told her my story, and we talked numbers, and she was quiet, and she had no idea that that’s what it was like for women of color,
Spencer told the audience at Sundance.
Chastain went on to negotiate on the behalf of Spencer and herself over the course of 6 months for their next film, where she assured her that they would be ‘tied together as favoured nations’ for the purposes of getting paid the same amount of money.
Which resulted in a significant leap for Spencer, as she declared she would be making five times the amount of her conventional pay. An overwhelmed Spencer concluded with – “I love Jessica…I love that woman because she’s not only talking the talk but also walking the walk.”
Bollywood has hardly spoken about the matter of wage gap. The disparity in the Hindi Film industry is not only obscene but seems almost irredeemable. Not unless more actors speak about it. The response to any such debate has usually been that ‘male stars guarantee a box office opening unlike female stars’, but the conversation over here is more about evolving our mindset. Anushka Sharma went on record and stated how female actors were discriminated against in petty ways like when she was given an inferior hotel room compared to her male co-star.
Both Sonam Kapoor and Kangana Ranaut have been vocal about how they were bringing more expertise to a film compared to their male counterparts, and yet it was the men walking away with a heftier paycheck. Sonam expressed her disgust at how she wasn’t allocated an ‘expected budget’ (for Veere Di Wedding) because it didn’t have any ‘male stars’. In spite of her last few films being successes, which is something most male stars cannot vouch for. It’s going to be a gradual process but we need more actors to go down the road of Jessica Chastain and champion the cause of equal pay, even if it means letting go of some money in a few films.
It’s about striving for an ideal, utopian value. And we need more men from both Bollywood and Hollywood to go out and bridge the gap between their own wages and their female counterparts’. There might be the odd instances here or there – where we hear about Deepika Padukone getting paid the most for Padmaavat in comparison to the male stars in the film, but they’re exceptions.
Our male actors need to pave the way like Jessica Chastain has.