Women’s wealth: how the new law increases the salaries of actresses in Hollywood

In Hollywood, now, negotiations are under way to conclude contracts. And, it seems, it will only go to women for the good

The law in force in the state of California, which entered into force in January, prohibits all employers from asking potential employees for information about their previous income. As for the labor market in the corporate environment, the new law there only changed the pace of traditional negotiations on the level of wages. But in the entertainment industry, agents of actors and heads of film studios who used the established prices for a long time in determining wages, because of him, had to completely rewrite their plan of action.

“This law radically changed the negotiation process,” a source from the acting agency said.

The fee of actors depends on how much they received for the last role. Agents of actors usually favor a gradual increase in the fee after each project in which their wards took part. Depending on the agency, the actors’ experience and their popularity, the fee can range from $ 2,500 to amounts with seven-digit figures. The more actors are photographed, the more chances they have to raise the prices or their work.

In the film industry, in which only 31% of the roles are played by women and only 29% by actors from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, such a pricing system benefits only white men for whom there have always been many roles. On the set, this inequality is even more obvious. According to a recent study of the project to integrate the School of Communication and Journalism in Annenberg at the University of Southern California, only 4% of women and 8% of members of racial minorities take a director’s seat.

All this has been transformed into a general discrepancy between the wages of actors and actresses, even among the most highly paid. Earnings of the ten most highly paid actors of the world last year amounted to $ 488.5 million – almost three times more than the earnings of the ten most successful actresses, which amounted to $ 172.5 million.

“This law is part of a plan to address the gender pay gap,” explained labor law attorney Anne Fromholm, head of the law firm The Fromholz Firm. “It is believed that if companies pay wages on the basis of accounting for the merits of workers, more equality in pay will be achieved. And if they pay employees, based on what kind of salary they received at the previous job, they may continue to pay unevenly the work of men and women. “

Because of the popularity of movements Time‘s Up and #MeToo theme of wage inequality in Hollywood has become more important than ever. Recent scandals, during which it became clear that the executors of the main roles in the series “Crown” from Netflix, as well as Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg in the film “All the money of the world” were paid unequal fees, only exacerbated the problem.

Now, thanks to the approved bill №168, whose goal was to reduce the gender pay gap, the law prohibits film studios from requesting data on rates – regardless of whether they are actors, writers or directors.

Previously, film studio managers could contact an agent of the actor to offer a potential contract, and ask about pricing. Agents provided information about previous fees of their wards and, as a rule, referred to the last salary of an actor or actress in a certain film, shot by a rival film studio. The director of commercial issues of the interested film studio in such a case called up with the managers of the studio, in the film of which the actor previously acted to check whether the agent called the exact rates. After that, negotiations would begin on the conclusion of a contract.

Now, however, some agents can already say that they have turned out good deals for their clients, especially for women or representatives of racial minorities, who were systematically underpaid and who were rarely taken to work. They refer to the fact that now the fee is increased by 12-20% per cent from the project to the project – much more than before the new law came into force.

Of course, directors of film studios on commercial issues have developed workarounds. Many use carefully selected language formulations to unobtrusively ask about the “desired fee” or “salary level”. More experienced staff of film studios, however, already know how many stars get on average. Therefore, the new law had a minimal impact on their work.

If actors are offered a much lower fee than usual, they can ask the agents to announce their rates by giving them written permission to provide the studios with data on the amount of previous fees. “If the actors are offered a higher fee than usual, I keep my mouth shut and try to increase it even more,” another source from the acting agency shared.

But now, even if the data on previous actors’ fees have been granted, film studios have no right to call and verify the authenticity of the information. This means that the increase of the actors’ fees is quite possible. “Since they can no longer check past fees, you can invent any amount that you think your client is worthy of,” said another agent who worked in the film industry for a long time.

Some, however, were affected by the new law. Novice commercial experts who use special software to track projects developed by studios, can now miss deals that are not included in the database of the film industry. These databases include Studio System, Variety Edge, IMDbPro and The Industry Edge. Due to the lack of information about the previous fee, many actors began to offer much lower fees, especially to actors with little experience. According to sources, in a number of cases the actors were initially offered an amount equal to only 40% of the previous fee.

“It seems that this is the first reaction of the studios. They offer as little as possible and then they say: “If you want more, you need to confirm that you have other rates,” states attorney Linda Lichter, specializing in the entertainment industry. She is the founder of the law firm Lichter, Grossman, Nichols, Adler & Feldman. “Thanks to this law, companies have the opportunity to pursue a more aggressive policy of restraining prices.”

Nevertheless, some believe that the law may have the opposite effect for women working in the corporate environment. “One of the reasons for the gender wage gap is the view that men are more assertive and better able to stand up for themselves,” said Jack Sheldel, a lawyer for labor law, a partner of the law firm Scali Rasmussen. “If men more insolently demand something, then they will not allow them to say that they work more, just to encourage the employer to pay them more?”.

It is too early to say, in whose favor the new law has inclined the scales. But those who support him still believe that this law will finally establish an equal pay for women and representatives of racial minorities in the entertainment industry.

Translation by Polina Shenoyeva