With last year’s Me Too and Times Up movements in full force and Hollywood apparently cleaning house of all offenders, I suspect the issue of pay equality is looked upon as a natural continuation of those two causes. Is it fair that male actors make more than their female counterparts? Let me hold off on answering that. The real subject of today is precipitated by a recent news item stating that Benedict Cumberbatch (Oscar nominated star of Doctor Strange and the T.V series, Sherlock) will refuse roles unless his female costars receive equal pay. Now, obviously this is a very noble gesture. Think back five months ago when the story broke out that Mark Whalberg earned a million dollars for reshoots while star of the film, Michelle Williams made something like $10, 000. That wasn’t fair, and so I could commend Cumberbatch for taking a stand here on behalf of his female peers. However, I disagree wholeheartedly with the gesture, as noble as it is, and think it represents more harm than good. I’ll do my best to organize and dispense my thoughts on this as best as possible so that you can see where I’m coming from. This is by no means a “men are better than women” argument. This is by no means an argument against fair pay for women.
- My main qualm is that it takes all the pressure off of the studio bigwigs and places it on all future male costars to follow suit. That’s not fair. As I argued back on the Mark Whalberg case, it was totally wrong for him to receive so much more than Michelle Williams, but the onus was on the studios and not Whalberg. He, and all male actors, have a right to seek as much money as they can get, and actresses have that same right. It is not any male actors’ duty to play agent for his costars. I’m pretty sure actors don’t discuss how much they’re making for a film.
- What Cumberbatch’s gesture represents amounts to Hollywood socialism. Are we still a capitalist society? Every actor should be paid according to what they’re worth to the film. Not according to talent, to be clear. Richard Jenkins is an infinitely better actor than Selena Gomez, but Selena Gomez has a sizable audience that her presence will guarantee. Jennifer Lawrence (who has made upwards of $15 million on films before) deserves to make more money than Benedict Cumberbatch, and Benedict Cumberbatch deserves to make more than Rachel McAdams.
- The real problem and point of emphasis should be to make more female centered films, give more female directors opportunities, and watch the audience for these films grow. Since a majority of Hollywood blockbusters are geared towards teenage boys, of course, men are going to see bigger box office returns. Again, this points to the studios who greenlight the films, and, who, to this point, haven’t trusted women or minority led films to make money.
- Touching back on the idea of Hollywood socialism, should we go back to the studio system? All actors under contract? I’m fairly certain that system broke down, and it was an actress, the great Bette Davis who played a huge role in breaking free of that structure. This isn’t Friends, where every actor and actress played an equal role in its success. Broker your own deal, and fight for your worth.
- Finally, although this is more of an aside, quit remaking successful male pictures with all female casts. It’s counterproductive to the cause. I think, maybe, Ocean’s 8 has a chance, but if you look at past box-office results, it’s original movies like Pitch Perfect and Bridesmaids that clean up. Not second rate remakes like Ghostbusters.