By and large, I think Amy Pascal, the soon-to-be-departing co-chairman of Sony Pictures, did a fairly solid job. She might not fare as well on the dinner lecture circuit, though.
When the hack of emails occurred at Sony, pay disparities at the studio between actors and actresses became public. Last Thursday, Ms. Pascal was speaking at a Women in the World function in San Francisco, and not surprisingly the subject came up. What was surprising, however, is that she went into full-defensive mode, and she said that the reason actresses get paid less than men is...well, it's the women's fault --
“I run a business. People want to work for less money, I’ll pay them less money. I don’t call them up and go, can I give you some more? They have to walk away. People shouldn’t be so grateful for jobs.”
Now, Amy Pascal is a very bright woman who reached the pinnacle of running a major studio, so she can't be that clueless about how Hollywood works. And I have a hard time believing that she's that disingenuous, especially when it comes to fairness for women. But it's difficult to get past the evidence she's put on the table.
First of all, this proposition of hers is based on an erroneous presumption to begin with, that actresses know what their male counterparts are getting, so they can therefore ask for more to make things even and fair. The problem is, that flies in the face of the very reason behind the recent Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, named for the woman who worked at Goodyear for 19 years without knowing what others were paid and that she was being underpaid, and sued. Now, it's true that sometimes the pay for an occasional actor gets reported in the media, but that's rare, and of course one never knows how accurate it is, or what clauses in the contracts say. And yes, some agents probably do pass along information under the table. But by and large, no, operating on sometime "under the table" facts is hardly the shining light for standard fairness, and therefore actors don't know exactly what one another is actually making.
But even as a starting erroneous presumption, that's also an insignificant point. Because the larger point, and one that Ms. Pascal knows far too well, is that what she's suggesting simply isn't how Hollywood works.
For starters, this isn't like quitting a job at Burger King because you don't like the pay, so you get a job at McDonalds. It's not even like switching executive jobs between General Motors and Ford. In Hollywood, if you are lucky enough to get hired to star in, say, Gone Girl, but you don't like what they're offering to pay you...sure, you can walk away. But no other studio in Hollywood -- in the world -- is making that movie. You walk away from that, the job is gone. There are other movies, but a) they're not that one, the one you want to play, and b) there's no certainty that you'll get offered the role. If you're Rosamund Pike, and you decide to walk away because you haven't been paid enough, there's a good chance they'll hire Reese Witherspoon instead. Or Julianne Moore. Or...fill in the blank.
But it's even more than just that. Because, as I said, it's not how Hollywood works, and Amy Pascal knows that.
Stars get paid based on their credits and, most importantly, their box-office success. But since the studios have long been reticent to make nearly as many movies that star women as men, most especially big, costly, blockbuster movies, and movies in the action field, there is no way, -- in general, overall -- that an actress can be judged on an even playing field with an actor. She'll always be playing catch-up. (And it's even worse for actresses, since -- while the "shelf life" for any actor is short -- it's even shorter for actresses, when the window for you to get starring roles is smaller than for men. Therefore, the opportunity to even things out is not only brief, but far briefer than in almost any other field in the business world.) An actress may only have five years, 10 years at most under normal conditions, to work as a star and earn top pay. And if she hasn't done it by the time she's 35, or maybe even 30, she can almost forget it. So, for Amy Pascal to suggest that the only thing women have to do is simply hold out for more money, and studios will gladly pay them, risking giving up a couple of precious earning years or more before another significant role may possibly come along -- or perhaps another breakthrough role, another one of which may never come along -- is pure hokum.
And Ms. Pascal even tells us it's pure hokum. "I run a business," she says. "I'll pay them less money." So, it is in her best interest to make sure that she keeps paying them less money. And we know that, because she's actually told us.
Not that we didn't know that already.
And by the way, this all presumes one other thing -- that agents for actresses don't ask for equal pay for their clients, but the studio says "no, take it or leave it, there are other actresses we're ready to make offers to if you're not interested." And so, the actresses take it.
If people want to work for less money, she says. Seriously? Does Amy Pascal actually believe that people want to work for less money?! "People shouldn't be so grateful for jobs," she says. Seriously? How many movies did Sony make last year? Now, how many of those starred women? I have no idea, but let's say three. (I might be low, but I think it's more likely I'm on the high end...) In Hollywood, you bet that people should be grateful for jobs. And women especially.
And Amy Pascal said this at a Women in the World event. No, really.
I understand that it was embarrassing when those hacked emails were made public, and that Amy Pascal wanted to make herself feel better and put the blame on those darn actresses who just don't ask for enough and take the responsibility off herself for not hiring women and pay them as much as men. And she's under no obligation to. But, seriously, don't blame the victims.
When I said "disingenuous," by the way, that was the polite term.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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