There are actually people who think Michelle Williams didn’t deserve to be paid as much as Mark Wahlberg.
Let that sit in your brain for a while.
Any rah-rah spirit that might have been buzzing following Sunday night’s rousing, crusading Golden Globes telecast was, if not completely crushed by an anvil, then certainly bruised days later when one of the more egregious cases of gender pay inequity—at least ones that have been made public—came to light.
Actually, strike that. Maybe it wasn’t a quell to the momentum, but a rage-fueled turbo boost, with yet another egregious injustice to bolster its case—especially when you survey the ridiculous, offensive, and retrograde misogynistic reaction. In other words, exactly the attitude and accepted norms that Time’s Up is rallying against.
On Tuesday night, it was reported that the four-time Oscar-nominated actress was paid $80 per day, totaling less than $1,000, for her work on now-infamous reshoots that took place over the Thanksgiving holiday for Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World. The impetus, as is by now old news, was to reshoot all of Kevin Spacey’s scenes as tycoon J. Paul Getty with substitute actor Christopher Plummer, following Spacey’s essential banishing from the industry due to allegations of gross sexual misconduct.
Williams’s salary is commensurate with comments she made after agreeing to the reshoots, that she’d forego any pay in order to get the thing done: “I said I’d be wherever they needed me, whenever they needed me. And they could have my salary, they could have my holiday, whatever they wanted. Because I appreciated so much that they were making this massive effort.”
It’s also commensurate with Scott’s assertion that all the actors participated in the reshoots for free.
The grenade of fury that detonated Tuesday night came, however, after a USA Today report revealed that Wahlberg, who had a supporting role in the film, did not work for free—or even the scale pay that Williams received. No, he earned $1.5 million for a brief reshoot. In other words, Williams was paid less than 1 percent the salary of her male co-star.
(For what it’s worth, the report confirms numbers that actress Jessica Chastain hinted at in a tweet the day before.)
The salary gap is shocking in that it is such a perfect representation of Hollywood’s systemic sexism and devaluing of women.
Gender pay disparity is hardly an industry secret—especially after leaked emails during the Sony hack uncovered by The Daily Beast made Jennifer Lawrence a famous face of the issue—which is why Jezebel’s Hazel Cills suggested that if Hollywood’s actors really wanted to be allies, rather than wearing black in solidarity to the Globes this past weekend they don jumpsuits painted with their inflated salaries for blockbusters their female co-stars were paid significantly less for.
But what makes the Williams situation so powerful is that she is Michelle Williams, a two-decade veteran of the industry with four Oscar nominations under her belt. This is a very famous person. This is a very good actress. So good, in fact, that she was nominated for Best Actress at the Globes for her All the Money in the World performance. She is the lead, by leaps and bounds, of the film. It wouldn’t work if she wasn’t such a dynamo in it.
Mark Wahlberg is fine in his role, but unremarkable enough that he could be replaced by any of Hollywood’s competent white dudes and you wouldn’t notice. I’ve seen the film in its entirety and still, every time the trailer is on TV, think, “Oh yeah, Marky Mark’s in this.”
So let’s restart that sentence: What makes the Williams situation so powerful is that she is Michelle Williams, and that guy earned 1,500 times more than her for less competent work, in a film he has less responsibility in. And people—industry people, agent people, assholes on the internet—think that’s fine.
Folks, Michelle Williams didn’t just deserve equal pay to Mark Wahlberg for her work in All the Money in the World. She deserved more.
We did the internet equivalent of bashing our head into a wall and then dunking it in a salt bath by perusing the comments on USA Today’s tweet announcing the salary disparity, as well as a few others.
Without validating the trolls by directly quoting, they argue that perhaps Williams is a bad negotiator so this is her fault. (More on that later.) They argue that Wahlberg is worth more to a film, because he has box office appeal and she does not. (More on that later.) They argue that maybe Wahlberg’s character shared more scenes with Plummer, and therefore had more heavy lifting to do during the reshoots. (We’ll address that one right now: Two or three more scenes to shoot hardly justifies $1.4 million in extra pay. But, you know, I’ve never been a math person.)
On the topic that Williams may have failed to negotiate a higher quote, or that she got the money she literally asked for when she volunteered to do the reshoots for free: That’s not how pay equity works, folks. It’s fair and equal compensation for fair and equal work.
But that’s not even the thing that will rip your head right off your neck and spin it like a Harlem Globetrotter.
Williams and Wahlberg are both repped by the same agency, WME. This isn’t a case of deals done in secret with non-communicative agencies. Agencies are supposed to protect their clients, and they failed Williams.
Actors and their agents should leverage whatever they can and choose, and that is the one reason to not completely drag Wahlberg through burning coals warmed inside of Satan’s asshole. Williams may have thought it honorable to forego the complication of salary demands in order to devise a quick turnaround to rescue a movie from the sins of a sexual predator. Wahlberg clearly thought it an opportunity to leverage those sins for a buck. WME should have seen that the fruits of that, disgusting as it may be, return to Williams as well.
(For what it’s worth, Williams hasn’t commented on what she did or did not know about the salary gap, but her best friend and confidante Busy Philipps, who was with Williams at the Golden Globes, has been tweeting steadily in outrage over the news of the disparity.)
But as to the point of Wahlberg’s box office appeal warranting a higher salary in a project with obvious interest in making money, recouping investment, and maximizing profit: Yes, he is a box office draw. He has a proven track record opening films, has multiple blockbuster franchises under his belt, and has an impressive $70 million average gross across his films.
There is worth in that. But all worth, especially in the movie business, is not equal. Things like an actor’s likability, buzz, pedigree, talent (DUH!), and awards track record matter. It’s to that latter end that Williams’s worth in this case exceeds Wahlberg’s, objectively.
It was never a secret that All the Money in the World was gunning for the Oscars. Its unfathomably quick turnaround—a summer shoot into a December release, just in time for awards voting—telegraphed that, as did the heroic effort to reshoot Spacey’s scenes to still meet those awards deadlines.
Because it bears repeating: Michelle Williams is a four-time Oscar nominee. She has five Golden Globe nominations and one win. She has six Indie Spirit nominations on top of that, also with one win. When Michelle Williams is cast in a film, it rocket launches to the top of the list of serious awards contenders, merely because of her presence. That is crucial at a time when voters are flooded with films to consider, and choose to screen the ones that they think are truly viable and worthy contenders. She toplines All the Money in the World’s awards cachet.
And for those awards All the Money in the World so transparently wants, Sony explicitly campaigned Williams in the lead category and Wahlberg in supporting for their respective performances. Shouldn’t it be outlandish for an employee doing more work to be paid less than the part-timer? In Hollywood, it never has been.
It’s not just Williams. As culture critic Mark Harris said in a tweet Tuesday night, “There are examples of pay disparity between actors and actresses in some of the biggest movies of recent years that would absolutely floor people.”
E! News host Catt Sadler is still having to defend herself for leaving the network after it was revealed that her male co-host Jason Kennedy was earning double her salary for the same work. After several actresses publicly supported Sadler at the Globes, the network released a statement saying there is “misinformation” about Sadler’s salary. “Our employees’ salaries are based on their roles and their expertise, regardless of gender,” the statement said, arguing that Kennedy’s work in primetime and on the red carpet differed from Sadler’s role.
But Sadler fought back Wednesday, saying that she and Kennedy are “apples to apples” comparisons: “We came to the network at the same time and did similar jobs.”
This whole pay gap debate is like a Russian nesting doll carved out of rotten fruit, with each new layer more putrid than the one before. That the disparities in compensation between men and women doing equal work (or in the case of Williams, a woman doing more work) are as monstrous as they are is the first whiff: Double!? 1,500 percent!? But the upchuck comes when the reflex is to justify it: typically mansplained rationalizing of the nonsensical into an excused norm.