The truth about the X-Files gender pay gap is out there

Since we don’t generally cover the Hollywood beat, this story might not have been of great interest were it not for the fact that it provides a very visible, high-profile glance into the gender pay gap concept and how that fits in with basic principles of democratic capitalism. The subject, as you’ve no doubt already gathered, is the revival of The X-Files for another, and likely final season. But rather than dwelling on the quality of the show (which I will say has been “okay” but not stellar thus far), the current debate is over how much David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were paid.

During the show’s original run, Duchovney (a.k.a. Fox Mulder) was paid considerably more than Anderson received for her role as Dana Scully, despite both of them being equal “stars” in the various stories. In the reboot, now in its second season, Anderson says that she actually had to fight to get the same pay this time. (NME)

Anderson has spoken out about the pay gap in the past, and has said she had to fight to be paid equally when the show returned in 2016. In a new interview with Digital Spy, [X-Files creator Chris] Carter said he believed the actor deserved to be paid as much as her co-star.

“But,” he added, “we work in a business where you have agents and you have lawyers and they try to make you the best deal they can. On the other side of that table is a studio, who is going to make sure themselves the best deal they can. That’s as it’s ever been.”

Carter continued to say that people “don’t appreciate that it’s a business” and that “just because we all believe that people should have equal pay, the people on the other side of the table” are looking to make the best deal possible.

“They just don’t automatically pay someone equal to someone else because that’s what the world is asking for,” he said. “I’m happy to say that Gillian is paid the same as David now.”

The reason that this interview is so refreshing is that Carter is in the enviable position of being able to get away with speaking a bit of truth on this subject without fear of his already lucrative career evaporating overnight as hordes of feminists come charging across the field toward him. Is he “happy” to see Gillian Anderson getting the same pay as Duchovney? Sure. Why not? That’s really not his problem and I’m sure he likes them both and wants to see them do well.

But he’s also being realistic and understands that the producers and investors who pay for making the show with the hopes of realizing a profit aren’t really interested in a debate over gender equity. In that sense this is really like any other business. They’re not in this to lose money and labor costs are one factor they have to consider. (Likely one of the biggest factors in Hollywood when you’re talking A-list celebrities.) And just as when most of us go to apply for a job anywhere up the scale from a minimum wage, low skill position, there is some negotiation involved in settling on your salary. If you don’t negotiate well, you’re going to wind up getting less than you might have otherwise and the owner will count that as a win because it may increase profits.

There’s also job experience to take into account, which is the case with most any avenue of employment. If one of the actors is better known than another, has won more awards or is just generally more likely to pull higher ratings, that person is worth more. It’s the same as with an electrical engineer with more years of experience, perhaps some patents and a history of success. That person is intrinsically worth more than someone with less experience and fewer accomplishments.

Therein lies the problem. Sometimes those applicants (or auditioning actors) won’t be the same gender. And if that’s the case and the female winds up making less, we’re now conditioned to immediately blame the employer (or producer) and claim they’re a sexist pig. Things aren’t always as simple as you might wish. Now, in the case of X-Files, it’s a tough call to make as to whether Duchovny or Anderson is “worth” more. Both have quite a few film and television credits, but not all that many starring roles and many were in projects the majority of us never heard of. Perhaps they carry the same market value. But as much as I love Anderson’s work personally, if they replaced Duchovny next week with Mark Wahlberg, Vin Diesel or Robert Downey jr and you told me that she needed to be paid the same as them just because she lacks a Y chromosome, I’d probably laugh in your face.