Culture

Tracee Ellis Ross, Michelle Williams, and The Role Awards Play (or Don’t) in Hollywood’s Gender Pay Disparities

Give Tracee Ellis Ross, Michelle Williams and all actresses their things.

This past week, The Hollywood Reporter, in a wide-ranging piece about gender pay disparity in Hollywood, reported that Tracee Ellis Ross, star of black-ish and one of the key voices of the #MeToo movement sweeping the industry, was considering cutting back her time on the show if she isn’t brought to an equal pay level with her fellow leading star Anthony Anderson. Some have argued that Anderson’s role as an executive producer warranted the disparity (even though I imagine ABC could easily calculate his acting pay rate and match it to Ross, so that doesn’t hold water). Another defense is that Anderson is the face of the show, and that his presence elevates him – and his compensation level – above Ross.

74th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Season 74

Here’s a fly to throw into the proverbial ointment: Tracee Ellis Ross’s Golden Globe for her work on black-ish. Ross won last year for Best Actress in a Comedy Series and became the first black woman in 25 years to win in the category. Ross’s win was also ABC’s first Golden Globe win in a decade, when America Ferrara – also a leader in the #MeToo movement – won in the same category for Ugly Betty. To his credit, Anderson has been nominated for Globes, Emmys, and Screen Actors Guild Awards as well, even before her. However, Ross is the only cast member to receive a major industry award for the show to date. In fact, her Golden Globe is the only major industry award to the show’s credit, period. For people who aren’t familiar with the show, but follow the awards season and its ceremonies, Tracee Ellis Ross is just as much the face of black-ish as Anthony Anderson is, if not more so.

The value of an award win, even a nomination, cannot be underestimated. They lend credence to an actor and their work. They raise a profile in a way countless promotional appearances can only dream of. It’s the reason why actors are often contractually obligated to campaign for the awards they hope to win. A well-timed award win can keep a show from being cancelled, or add millions to a film’s box office gross. If someone is responsible for winning their project a coveted award, shouldn’t their pay reflect that accomplishment? In the case of Ross, who won as a lead actress, it should be a no-brainer that she is paid equally to her male co-star for her game-changing accolade.

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Awards and prestige also factor into the other gender pay flap gripping Hollywood headlines, involving All the Money in the World and its stars Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg. USA Today revealed earlier this month that Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million for film reshoots with Christopher Plummer, following the abrupt ouster of Kevin Spacey after he was accused of sexual assault last fall. Williams, the film’s leading actress, was paid slightly less than $1,000, or a rate of $80 per diem. The news sparked a media firestorm that led Wahlberg to offer a mea culpa in the form of a donation in Williams’ name to the #MeToo campaign equal to his reshoot fee. Not even a week later, The Hollywood Reporter – in the same piece featuring Ross’ struggles with black-ish – also revealed that the disparity between Wahlberg and WIlliams’ pay extended to their salaries for Money; Wahlberg netted $5 million and Williams took home roughly $625,000, 12% of her co-star’s fee.

It’s a staggering gap made more egregious by the film’s prestige status and Williams and Wahlberg’s roles in that regard. All the Money in the World was in an awards contender early on, with Spacey initially receiving the Oscar buzz that Plummer is receiving now. After cutting Spacey, director Ridley Scott rushed the Plummer reshoots over the Thanksgiving holiday so that he could make his December 25th release date. All of the actors supported the effort, and by the skin of his teeth, Ridley recut the film in time for this particularly competitive season. It was a Herculean gamble in service of Money’s awards potential, and it paid off when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association awarded the film three Golden Globe nominations: Best Director for Scott, Best Supporting Actor for Plummer and Best Actress in a Drama for Williams. Wahlberg was not nominated.

With all due respect to Wahlberg, it’s doubtful that many were seeing All the Money in the World because he was in it. Although The Departed netted him an Oscar nomination in 2007, Wahlberg has largely starred in light popcorn flicks (Daddy’s Home and its recent sequel) and mid-level blockbusters (The Transformers franchise). Generally, there is little crossover between the audiences for his typical slate of films and prestigious awards bait like Money. And yet, it is Wahlberg’s audience that his agents likely leveraged when negotiating both his $5 million salary and his $1.5 million reshoot fee. Considering the film has grossed less than $40 million – even with all of the controversy – Wahlberg’s box office power is a moot point. Williams, however, is a well-known and well-liked prestige film star, with the awards recognition to prove it. The actress has been nominated for four Oscars in ten years’ time, for considerably small films like My Week with Marilyn and last year’s Manchester by the Sea. Her audience – the awards watchers being a significant constituency – aligns with Money much better than Wahlberg’s ever could. In fact, Williams is the film’s real draw, and it should follow that her salary reflects that. Instead, Williams gets to be humiliated by getting pennies in comparison to her co-star who is effectively showing up for the paycheck.

Of course, awards should not be a pre-requisite to gender pay equality. All performers, regardless of their gender, racial or sexual identities, should receive equal compensation for equal work. It is just particularly outrageous that women who are delivering awards-acknowledged work are being paid astonishingly less than their male co-stars who simply aren’t. It’s not an indictment on Anthony Anderson or Mark Wahlberg: they have every right to advocate for themselves and have plenty to offer in their own rights. But in this time, where the #MeToo movement has kicked the equality conversation wide open, taking stock of the landscape and pointing out the system’s absurd excuses for marginalizing talented women is crucial in bringing about real change. Clearly we are nowhere near it yet, but hopefully the day will come when an actress, regardless of her awards potential, receives the same pay as her co-star. And if she is paid more for winning a Golden Globe or receiving four Oscar nominations, all the better for it.

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