Vinay Menon: Mark Wahlberg’s windfall and Michelle Williams’ ripoff remind us that it pays to push
The situation of unequal pay might have been sexist, but it might’ve been Williams’ selflessness that cost her, writes Vinay Menon.
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It must be exhausting to be in the entertainment industry these days.
Like mangled cars on an icy freeway during a multi-vehicle collision, the controversies will not stop piling up. Boom, bang, crash. It’s as if scandals are now syndicated and programmed to run daily, beamed from Hollywood directly into our disbelieving eyes and ears.
This week’s storylines: Is James Franco a sexual abuser? Why is Catherine Deneuve denouncing the #MeToo movement? And from the salary-gap files, why was Michelle Williams paid less than a thousandth of what Mark Wahlberg pocketed to reshoot scenes for All the Money in the World, following the decision to replace disgraced Kevin Spacey with omnipresent Christopher Plummer?
This last revelation comes from a story in USA Today, which sparked a new round of denunciations. Within minutes of publication — “Exclusive: Wahlberg got $1.5M for ‘All the Money’ reshoot, Williams paid less than $1,000” — celebrities climbed aboard their social-media fighter jets to blast outrage and incredulity into the skies where #EqualPay still seems like a distant mirage.
Judd Apatow: “This is so messed up that it is almost hard to believe. Almost. This is how this business works. I wonder if the studio or Wahlberg will do something to make the situation less insane.”
Amber Tamblyn: “Michelle Williams was paid 1% of what her male co-star made on her latest film. This is totally unacceptable.”
Jessica Chastain: “I heard for the reshoot she got $80 a day compared to his MILLIONS. Would anyone like to clarify? I really hope that with everything coming to light, she was paid fairly. She’s a brilliant actress and is wonderful in the film.”
Agreed. Williams is gifted. She’s certainly more valuable in this film. Never mind replacing Spacey with Plummer — they could’ve replaced Wahlberg with a hologram. That’s not a cheap shot. It’s just a reflection on a role with limited impact.
Chastain’s demand for further clarification is also reasonable. Right now, we don’t really know what happened. Did producers insist Williams do the one-week reshoot for a base per diem while secretly handing a pillowcase full of crisp thousand-dollar bills to Wahlberg? Does this financial disparity stem from entrenched gender inequality, a grim reality so many actresses have flagged in recent years? Was it flat-out sexism?
I have no idea. But what I do know is that prior to the reshoot, Williams was incredibly selfless and gracious and deferential to the needs of others. She was ready to help and sacrifice. In other words, she was like every woman I know.
As she previously told USA Today about the reshoot: “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.”
By the sounds of it, they didn’t even need to pay her the 80 bucks. She was all-in on the reshoot and committed to whatever was best for everyone else.
Which brings us to Wahlberg. And since he and Williams are both represented by William Morris Endeavor, we can plot two theories, pending further clarification. After the unexpected reshoot emerged, talent agents either, a) gave preferential treatment to the male client or, b) the female client did not make specific demands.
If it’s the former, then turn the outrage up to 10 and someone write Williams a big fat cheque. But if it’s the latter, maybe this is more of a teachable moment.
We already know Hollywood has an enduring problem with pay inequality. As Mia Farrow observed: “Outrageously unfair — but it’s always been like this. I was never, ever paid even a quarter of what the male lead received.”
That’s sick. But in this specific incident, it might be beneficial to consider how the perceived expectations of those involved shaped divergent compensation. And here I agree with sports broadcaster Jemele Hill, who tweeted: “Lot of lessons here. Always know your worth, being among them. I’m not blaming Michelle Williams at all, but this is why women should never feel guilty about being demanding.”
Bingo. The thing is, Williams went into the reshoot with no demands. What she and every other actress should now ask during a pay negotiation is, “What is my male counterpart getting?” Because this is one Hollywood rule that is gender-neutral: nobody will give you something if they think they can take something.
The idea that Williams is worth less than a thousandth of Wahlberg is comically absurd. It’s like appraising two diamond rings and insisting one is cubic zirconia. If anything, Williams is the better actor. I’d give her the edge in timing, screen presence, versatility, delivery, emotional range and the ability to say something without saying anything at all.
That last quality translates exceptionally well on the big screen.
But in the negotiating suites, you need to be heard.