There was a time when charges of sexism in Hollywood revolved around the exploitation of beautiful young country bumpkins desperate to make it into the business. Now it’s all about the “gender pay gap” between the millions of dollars some actresses are making and the few more millions some of their male counterparts are racking up for the very same films.
Most recently it was Jessica Chastain grumbling about the substantial discrepancy between her and Matt Damon’s salaries for The Martian, despite the fact that Damon was the unquestionable star of that film and her role was minuscule by comparison. She follows in the footsteps of Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence, who recently penned a piece in Lena Dunham’s newsletter lamenting that she made less than her male costars on American Hustle, even though she’s the highest-paid actress in the world. In fact the only actor making more than her is Iron Man star Robert Downey Jr. whose name Gwyneth Paltrow coincidentally dropped earlier this month when complaining how it “feels sh*tty” to make less than male actors.
Of the three, Lawrence is the only one who comes up with a comparison that is remotely fair, and even she admits she failed to hold out for more money because of her own preconceptions about negotiating. That hasn’t stopped the media from demanding some answers from some of the male costars she named though. Bradley Cooper, who worked with Lawrence on American Hustle, quickly fell in line to say he and his peers should start teaming up with their female counterparts to negotiate salaries.
Fortunately, Jeremy Renner, who also had a supporting role in American Hustle, sees the situation a little more clearly. When asked by Business Insider if he’d join Cooper in working to get their female costars paid more money, he responded “That’s not my job.”
“I don’t know contracts and money and all that sort of stuff,” Renner went on to say.
Adding he fully supports actresses receiving equal pay as actors, he said he’s more focused on his craft than what everyone is making.
“I’m a performer and I know human behavior. When it comes to that sort of stuff I let other people deal with that,” said the two-time Oscar nominee. “I do what I’m good at, that’s what I focus on.”
As Renner rightly points out, it’s not even his job to negotiate for his own salary, much less that of his costars. That’s what agents are for, and that’s why the first response to any actor who wants more money should be “have you talked to your agent?” Either that agent isn’t doing a particularly good job, or the actor has some unreasonable expectations of their value to the people writing their checks.
A million different things may factor into how that value gets calculated for any given role, but ultimately it all boils down to how many butts that actor can put in seats by taking that part. That’s why the guy who plays the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist upon which the multi-billion dollar Marvel Cinematic Universe was built gets the big bucks, and the woman who plays the supporting girlfriend character who can easily be recast with barely a thought does not.
Like the general difference seen in earnings between men and women that feminists argue proves the existence of The Patriarchy™, any pay gap between the genders in Hollywood is almost entirely due to the choices of women in the industry. If they want to make more, they’re not going to get there by hoping the male actors are all going to take pay cuts to spread the wealth around. Instead they’ll have to follow Renner’s example by hiring agents who won’t settle for less and focusing on making themselves better at their craft to wow audiences and casting directors alike.
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