Last summer we saw the gender pay gap laid bare when Forbes published their 2017 list of highest earning actors and actresses. Out of the 30 names that appeared on the list, only 10 were women and they don't even make an appearance until you get halfway down the list. Yes, much like male footballers, isn't everyone in Hollywood overpaid for the job that they do? But if the gender pay gap exists at this level what chance do women in other sectors have? Changing things at the top, where there's significant influence and power, can only mean that change will happen elsewhere.
Out of those 10 women on the list, not one was a women of colour, highlighting the racial pay gap that also exists. Jessica Chastain spoke about this in her latest interview with The Hollywood Reporter, which came out last week. The issue was first brought to her attention by her friend Octavia Spencer (an Oscar winner, twice nominated) and Chastain has now made it part of her mission to advocate for equal salaries for ALL women:
"Your silence is your discrimination. So if you are succeeding in an environment where there is discrimination, you are actively being discriminatory."
Chastain can be problematic for some people: I've seen her critics describe her as a white saviour. This is referred to during the interview and her response suggests that she is painfully self-aware about how she comes across, which suggests she puts a lot of thought into how she speaks. I’m not going to judge Chastain solely on her words - at least she is doing something to shed light on the problem. Plus, there are countless male actors out there who say terrible things and behave horrendously without having to face serious consequences (most recent example, Emile Hirsch).
But I do want to see Jessica Chastain learning from her past actions. Like that time at the end of last year when she participated in an all female roundtable, made up entirely of white women. By excluding WOC, the diversity of the narrative was (obviously) severely reduced. When Chastain was called out about this on Twitter, by Rebecca Carroll, she did not address the part she played in this exclusion, which I find problematic: it should be OK to get called out on your mistakes, to own them and to apologize for them. Instead she just side-stepped the issue and asked her followers to share their favourite movies featuring WOC leads.
Fast forward to the present and Chastain has produced an action move (355) starring Penelope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o, Fan Bingbing, Marion Cotillard and herself, which we can safely say is an improvement in the diversity check box. All the actresses received the same paycheck and the film was the biggest sale to come out of the Cannes film festival, with Universal paying 20 million USD for the rights. I trust that Chastain will keep putting her money where her mouth is. The future is without doubt female but let us not forget that this should be inclusive when it come to race, class, sexuality, gender identity and disability.
Further reading links:
An interview with Domee Shi, Pixar’s FIRST female director (Hello Giggles) (Bao looks SO cute)