Jennifer Lawrence, box office superstar, has finally spoken out against the Hollywood gender pay gap, but is she talking to the wrong people?
In an op-ed essay for Lena Dunham's newsletter Lenny — titled "Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co-Stars?" — the Hunger Games star writes about the difficulties women face in business negotiations. While frankly acknowledging that, as one of Hollywood's highest-paid actors, her salary woes aren't exactly "relatable," she blames the discrepancy on the sort of persistent sexism that women from all walks of life can relate to:
"When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks, I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early. I didn’t want to keep fighting over millions of dollars that, frankly, due to two franchises, I don’t need. (I told you it wasn’t relatable, don’t hate me).
But if I’m honest with myself, I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight. I didn’t want to seem 'difficult' or 'spoiled.' At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being 'difficult' or 'spoiled.'"
Lawrence is referring specifically to the pay discrepancy on Sony's American Hustle, directed by David O. Russell. After the Sony servers were hacked in late 2014, leaked emails revealed that Lawrence and Amy Adams were getting a smaller back-end percentage than co-stars Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, and Bradley Cooper. (The three males were given 9 percentage points, and Amy and Jennifer were given 7.)
One curious thing about Lawrence's essay is that she seems to view the salary discrepancy as a personal failure on her part — as though she doesn't have a team at CAA presumably doing the negotiating on her behalf. After all, that's their job, and the better a client is paid, the better an agent/manager is paid.
In the case of American Hustle, Lawrence's lawyers Steve Warren and Gretchen Rush complained about the pay gap at the time, according to a leaked email: “Got a steve warren/gretchen rush call that it’s unfair the male actors get 9% in the pool and jennifer is only at 7pts,” Andrew Gumpert, President of Business Affairs and Administration for Columbia Pictures, wrote to Sony studio head Amy Pascal.
Of course, it's possible that Lawrence specifically instructed her lawyers to accept a less than favorable contract, which her essay suggests. But she also writes that she had no idea about the pay discrepancy until she saw the emails. Isn't that something her agents and lawyers should have made sure she knew about?
"If I knew my client was at 7 and three other were getting 9 the first thing I'd tell my client is, 'you’re getting screwed. What do you want to do about it? Do you want to take the deal or do you want to fight it," said a Hollywood talent agent who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "I bet if they told her she would have said, 'I want to fight it.'"
Lawrence appears to have a number of people representing her at CAA, but it's worth noting that at least one of her agents is a woman herself — Tracy Brennan. There has been a lot of talk in the last year or two about the gender-based pay differences among Hollywood talent, but very little has been said about the sexist hurdles faced by female agents or agents representing female clients. We're glad that Jennifer is finally speaking out — it may take someone in her position to scare studios into enforcing pay equity.
Asked if he thought Lawrence might be poachable, our agent source (who works for a CAA rival) said "Absolutely. You see a hole like that you drive a truck through it. A truck with explosives."
Hell, we'd double her salary if we could. She's worth it. And we'd only take 10 percent.
Photos by Keith JMA / Star Max / GC Images