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Hollywood Pay Gap - When Stars’ Salaries Don’t Shine Bright

Various studies and reports have consistently shown significant differences in pay between male and female actors in Hollywood. How complex is the issue concerning the Hollywood pay gap? What could be the underlying causes?

Tom Mohamed
Jul 17, 20239207 Shares177059 Views
The glitz and glamor of Hollywood may dazzle the world, but beneath the surface lies a persistent issue that has long plagued the entertainment industry: the Hollywood pay gap.
For decades, Hollywood has been a hotbed of creativity, showcasing the talents of actors, actresses, directors, and producers who captivate audiences with their craft.
However, behind the scenes, a stark disparity in earnings has persisted, particularly for women and people of color.
These individuals often find themselves on the receiving end of unequal pay, despite their talent, experience, and contributions to the industry.
The Hollywood pay gap reflects a deeply rooted issue that extends far beyond the glimmer of the silver screen, reflecting broader societal challenges surrounding gender and racial equality.

Hollywood Wants To Fix Its Gender Pay Gap

Is There A Pay Gap In Hollywood?

Yes, there has been a longstanding issue of a gender pay gap in Hollywood.
Numerous examples have emerged over the years, shedding light on the stark differences in pay between male and female actors.
The awful truth: female actors often earn significantly less than their male counterparts.
One really awful example to corroborate this truth:
  • For reshooting scenes for All the Money in the World (2017), the film outfit paid Mark Wahlberg a total of $1.5 million, reported USA Today.
  • His co-star, the talented and gorgeous Michelle Williams, also got paid for a series of reshoots. How much? A total of less than $1,000.
In many cases, even when women take on leading roles or deliver critically acclaimed performances, they often find themselves earning significantly less than their male counterparts.
In February 2015, at the 87th Academy Awards, when Patricia Arquette won Best Supporting Actress for Boyhood (2014), her acceptance speech became controversial.
Arquette said:
It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.- Patricia Arquette
The audience applauded enthusiastically, as one can hear from a video clip uploaded by Wall Street Journal on its YouTube channel.
Also, a camera caught a visibly jubilant Meryl Streep cheering Arquette on while clapping alongside her seatmate, Jennifer Lopez. Streep even mouthed the words, “Yes! Yes!” while pointing to Arquette.
This Hollywood pay gap touches several crucial issues as it:
  • perpetuates gender inequality
  • sends a damaging message to aspiring actors
  • reinforces societal biases
  • discourages women from pursuing careers in the industry
Moreover, the pay gap in Hollywood is not limited to gender disparities alone. People of color also face significant challenges when it comes to fair compensation.
Representation and diversity in the entertainment industry have been long-standing issues, with many actors and actresses from marginalized communities facing limited opportunities and unequal treatment.
As a result, they are often paid less than their white counterparts, perpetuating a cycle of underrepresentation and reinforcing systemic biases.
This Hollywood pay gap has been a subject of discussion and controversy within the entertainment industry and has gained significant attention in recent years.
Patricia Arquette in a white one-shoulder dress and reading glasses delivering her acceptance speech at the Oscars
Patricia Arquette in a white one-shoulder dress and reading glasses delivering her acceptance speech at the Oscars

Pay Disparity In Hollywood

While Tinseltown thrives on the allure of big-budget films, red carpets, and adoring fans, the stark disparities in compensation based on gender and race have become a haunting reality.
The Hollywood pay gap can be influenced by various underlying causes, including:
a. Gender Bias
Historically, gender bias has played a significant role in pay disparity in Hollywood.
Women have often been paid less than their male counterparts for similar roles, even when they have comparable levels of experience and success.
This bias that results in Hollywood pay gap can be attributed to:
  • entrenched gender stereotypes
  • systemic discrimination
b. Lack of Representation
As mentioned earlier, the underrepresentation of women, people of color, and other marginalized groups in key positions within the industry contributes to pay disparity.
As entertainment lawyer Darrell Miller (Angela Bassett is one of his clients) told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018:
People of color concede [in negotiations] quicker because they infrequently get golden opportunities. The issue goes to the lack of diversity in the content being made.- Attorney Darrell D. Miller
When there is a lack of diversity in decision-making roles such as producers, directors, and executives, it can:
  • perpetuate biases
  • lead to unequal pay
c. Negotiation and Contract Disparities
Negotiation skills and contract terms can also contribute to pay disparity.
Studies have shown that women are less likely to negotiate for higher salaries compared to men.
In a 2021 interview with Vanity Fair, Jennifer Lawrence said that she was “happy” with how much she got for Don’t Look Up (2021)even if her co-star Leonardo di Caprio got paid $5 million dollars more than what she received.
Still, Lawrence noted:
But in other situations, what I have seen - and I’m sure other women in the workforce have seen as well - is that it’s extremely uncomfortable to inquire about equal pay.- Jennifer Lawrence
She added:
And if you do question something that appears unequal, you’re told it’s not gender disparity but they can’t tell you what exactly it is.- Jennifer Lawrence
Additionally, contractual agreements may contain clauses that disadvantage certain groups, limiting their ability to negotiate fair compensation.
Thus, the long-standing issue of Hollywood pay gap.
d. Limited Opportunities for Women and Minorities
Limited access to high-profile and financially lucrative roles can result in a pay gap in Hollywood.
Women and minorities may face barriers to entry, such as casting biases and stereotyping, which restrict their opportunities for advancement and higher-paying roles.
e. Industry Culture and Norms
The prevailing culture in Hollywood, including long-standing norms and practices, can contribute to pay disparities.
The “star system” and the perception of bankability may result in higher salaries for established actors, typically favoring male actors over female actors.
This culture often perpetuates the status quo and makes it difficult for newcomers or individuals from marginalized groups to break through.
f. Lack of Transparency
A lack of transparency surrounding salary information can further perpetuate the pay disparity in Hollywood.
When actors’ salaries are not disclosed, it allows for unequal pay practices to persist without scrutiny or accountability.
However, CNBC reported in 2022 about a research work conducted by three professors in 2017, which revealed that, in general, the actors get paid $1.1 million more than the actresses.
In addition, actors who are 50 years old and above receive $4 million more than what actresses in the same age bracket receive.
g. Intersectionality
Intersectional factors can compound the Hollywood pay gap, such as:
  • race
  • ethnicity
  • sexuality
Individuals who face multiple forms of discrimination may experience even greater wage gaps due to the intersectional nature of their identities.
Addressing these underlying causes requires a comprehensive approach, including:
  • industry-wide efforts to promote diversity and inclusion
  • elimination of biases
  • establishment of transparent salary practices
  • provision of equal opportunities for individuals from all backgrounds
Efforts to address the Hollywood pay gap have gained traction in recent years, with movements like #TimesUpand #MeToobringing these issues to the forefront.
Bradley Cooper, with back against the camera, cupping the face of Amy Adams in ‘American Hustle’
Bradley Cooper, with back against the camera, cupping the face of Amy Adams in ‘American Hustle’

Sony Pictures Hack

Several high-profile incidents have highlighted the gender pay inequality in the American film industry.
For example, in 2014, a major hacking incident revealed that many female actors were being paid significantly less than their male co-stars for similar roles.
This incident, known as the Sony Pictures hack, prompted a widespread debate about the Hollywood pay gap.
In one of the emails obtained through the hacking, as reported by The Daily Beast, it was revealed that in the movie American Hustle (2013), these actors received the following percentages from the profits:
Hollywood StarPercentage (profit)
Amy Adams7%
Christian Bale9%
Bradley Cooper9%
Jennifer Lawrence7%
Jeremy Renner9%
In 2015, BBC Radio 4 talked to George Clooney regarding the Sony Pictures hack, as reported by The Guardian.
For Clooney, it was good that the emails got leaked publicly because it only validated the pay gap in Hollywood.
Since the Sony Pictures hack, there have been some positive developments in recent years. More and more prominent actors and activists advocate for equal pay and increased representation for women in the industry.
These efforts to address the Hollywood pay gap have led to greater scrutiny of pay disparities and a push for more equitable compensation practices in Hollywood.

Hollywood faces uncertain future amid SAG-AFTRA, WGA strikes

SAG-AFTRA Strike 2023

Despite growing awareness and efforts to address this issue, the Hollywood pay gap persists.
Per The Hollywood Reporter, the 2016 Hollywood Writers Report by the Writers Guild of America (WGA) disclosed the following information:
WriterMedian Earnings (2014)
white male writers$133,500
Asian writers$115,817
black writers$99,440
Latino writers$84,200
Among male, female, and writers from minority groups, guess who got paid more? Based on the said 2016 report:
WriterMedian Earnings
The Hollywood pay gap continues that on May 2, 2023, WGA - approximately 11,500 screenwriters - went on strike.
Then on July 14, 2023, SAG-AFTRA did the same thing - “the first time in 43 years,” as noted by journalist Emma Hinchliffe in her Fortune article.
SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America members on the street holding placards saying they’re on strike
SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America members on the street holding placards saying they’re on strike
SAG-AFTRA is a prominent American labor union formed by the merger of two pre-existing unions: the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA).
The merger took place in 2012, combining the strength and resources of both organizations.
Representing a wide range of professionals in the entertainment industry - approximately 160,000 members, according to its website - and they include:
actorsnews editors
actressesprogram hosts
broadcast journalistsrecording artists
DJsstunt performers
news writersvoiceover artists
The labor union’s third and current national president is the comedian, writer, and The Nanny (1993-1999)star Fran Drescher.
SAG-AFTRA is trying to strike a negotiation with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the trade association representing the powers-that-be in Hollywood, such as:
AppleParamount Global
DisneyWarner Bros. Discovery
NBC Universal--
SAG-AFTRA, among several concerns, aims for better salaries. There’s also the AI (artificial intelligence)-related issues.
According to The New Yorker, some of the cast of Netflix’s hit comedy-drama series Orange Is the New Black (2013-2019)showed their support to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike.
After all, they, too, seem to have been a victim of the Hollywood pay gap.
For her role as the inmate Brook Soso - one of the popular characters in the series - Kimiko Glenn, who is of Japanese descent, received a mere $27.30 as royalties.
Matt McGorry (as corrections officer John Bennett) admitted that throughout his work with the show, he was compelled to retain his original day job because he received a bigger pay from it.
Beth Dover (as Linda Ferguson, a manager) shared that filming Seasons 3 and 4 “cost” her money because she paid for different things just to make it on the set, including her air fare.
It is essential, therefore, for Hollywood to foster an inclusive environment that values and compensates talent equitably, regardless of gender, race, or other factors.
Fran Drescher in black T-shirt under a white jacket speaking behind a podium in a SAG-AFTRA press conference
Fran Drescher in black T-shirt under a white jacket speaking behind a podium in a SAG-AFTRA press conference

People Also Ask

Who Is The Highest Paid Actor In Hollywood?

Based on a list made by MeriStation, the table below shows the top five Hollywood actors who received the highest salary for a movie they did in 2022/2023:
Tom CruiseTop Gun Maverick (2022) - $100 million
Will SmithEmancipation (2022) - $35 million
Leonardo DiCaprioKillers of the Flower Moon (2023) - $30 million
Brad Pitt(about Formula 1; still untitled; for 2023) - $30 million
Dwayne JohnsonBlack Adam (2022) - $22.5 million
After them, seven actors - Will Ferrel, Chris Hemsworth, Vin Diesel, Tom Hardy, Joaquin Phoenix, Ryan Reynolds, Denzel Washington - got $20 million each.

Who Is The Highest Paid Actress In Hollywood 2023?

From the same list provided by MeriStation:
Margot RobbieBarbie (2023) - $12.5 million
Millie Bobby BrownEnola Holmes 2 (2022) - $10 million
Emily BluntOppenheimer (2023) - $4 million
Jamie Lee CurtisHalloween Ends (2022) - $3.5 million
Anya-Taylor JoyFuriosa (2024) - $1.8 million
In fairness, talks about the Hollywood pay gap seem to be making progress.
Margot Robbie has the same salary as her co-star Ryan Gosling. Like Emily Blunt, Matt Damon and Robert Downey Jr. received $4 million for Oppenheimer (2023).

Who Is The Highest Paid Celebrity In The World 2023?

Tyler Morning Telegraph reported that the world’s top five highest paid celebrities in 2023 are:
CelebrityOccupation/2023 Earnings
Kylie Jenner (U.S.)TV personality, entrepreneur - $590 million
Kanye West (U.S.)rapper, record producer, entrepreneur - $170 million
Roger Federer (Switzerland)tennis player - $106.3 million
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)footballer - $105 million
Lionel Messi (Argentina)footballer - $104 million

Final Thoughts

Despite the industry’s progressive image and purported commitment to equality, the Hollywood pay gap remains a glaring reminder of the systemic inequalities that persist in the heart of the entertainment world.
The pay disparity in Hollywood has long been a pervasive problem.
Several prominent actors, actresses, and industry professionals have spoken out against the disparities, demanding fair treatment and equal pay for all.
While progress has been made, there is still a long way to go to achieve true parity in compensation within the entertainment industry.
By shedding light on the Hollywood pay gap, we hope to contribute to a more equitable and inclusive entertainment industry, where talent, not gender or race, determines an individual’s worth.
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