Over the past year, we’ve seen Hollywood’s deeply embedded gender inequality get called out by several high-profile actors. Last November, Mila Kunis published an op-ed in A Plus that described an instance where being called “Ashton’s wife and baby momma” in an email from a producer caused her to pull out of a project. In January, Natalie Portman admitted in an interview with Reuters that the pay gap between actors and actresses was “crazy,” noting that she had been paid three times less than costar Kutcher for her role in the 2011 comedy “No Strings Attached.” Both instances garnered widespread public support, with other actresses and creatives sharing their own experiences as a result.
And now another actress has chosen to speak publicly about her experiences. Earlier this week, Variety ran an interview with Academy Award-nominated actress Jessica Chastain about her own history of pay inequality and how she’s chosen to deal with it going forward. “I’m not taking jobs anymore where I’m getting paid a quarter of what the male co-star is being paid,” Chastain explains. “I’m not allowing that in my life.” In the interview, Chastain shared her new approach going forward:
There was something huge that I recently turned down. For me, it wasn’t about the money; it was an old-fashioned problem of the wage gap. I turned it down, and they didn’t come back. I remember afterwards I was like, “What did I do? Maybe it was a mistake.” But it wasn’t, because everyone in the studio system heard what I did. So what you’re doing is creating a reputation: Don’t bring Jessica something where she’s not being fairly compensated compared to the male actor. Even though I lost that film, I’ve created a boundary. I drew a line in the sand.
Chastain is one of Hollywood’s best and most versatile actresses, moving easily between summer blockbusters like “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” and smaller projects such as “Miss Sloane.” While her decision to turn down a project might not affect her chance to get a role the next time out, it’s an important statement for those who might not have as much bargaining power in Hollywood and have to take what they can get. If women like Kunis, Portman, and Chastain can keep the pressure on studios to make their wages more fair, we might hopefully see change for the better in the years to come.