In recent weeks, The New York Times delivered an exhaustive magazine cover story tackling every angle of the “pervasive sexism” in Hollywood; Jennifer Lawrence, the highest-paid actress in Hollywood and the most outspoken on the pay gap, covered December’s issue of Vogue; Carey Mulligan, the star of Suffragette, sang Lawrence’s praises (“it’s admirable what she has done”) in an interview with Deadline. And they’re just getting started.
As the industry gears up for awards season, the debate about wage inequality in Hollywood—kicked off by Patricia Arquette’s rousing speech at last year’s Oscars, is rising to fever pitch again.
Every major media outlet, this one included, has covered the issue. It’s no wonder that some major movie stars are tired of talking about it.
Cate Blanchett, bless her, was candid about her fatigue in a recent interview with GQ.
During her Oscar acceptance speech for Blue Jasmine in 2014, in a brief nod to women defying sexism in Hollywood, Blanchett told off industry dinosaurs “still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences.”
With those words, she became a figurehead for Women Fighting Sexism in Hollywood, invited to every symposium on gender inequality in the industry. But discussing the issue has its limits.
“It just feels like the industry has the same conversation every year,” Blanchett told GQ’s Zach Baron, adding that it’s a “fabulous conversation”—but also an increasingly tedious one. Indeed, tracing the roots of sexism in Hollywood and strategizing ways to effect change is not the same as actually affecting change.
“We’ll be back here like Groundhog Day next year having the same fucking symposium,” she said. “It just has to shift.”
It’s worth noting that GQ’s interview with Blanchett came at the end of two days on the awards circuit, relentlessly promoting Truth, about Dan Rather’s dramatic exit from CBS (Blanchett plays 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes); and Carol, about a lesbian romance in the 1950s between the eponymous Carol (Blanchett) and a younger woman (Rooney Mara).
Both films have been talked about as potential Oscar contenders.
Blanchett had likely been asked about the wage gap in Hollywood at every turn during those two days. It’s a zeitgeisty issue and, inevitably, the question on every reporter’s lips when face-to-face with an actress, particularly one as smart and successful as Blanchett.
Baron alludes to this obligatory dance between celebrities and the media—to Blanchett’s “basic resistance to the pat narratives foisted upon her by people in my profession, and in hers.”
Indeed, it is patently absurd that actresses like Blanchett are designated voices for gender equality in their industry because they touched on the issue in a speech one time.
But it’s also inevitable in a culture that valorizes celebrity as much ours does, as well as one in which women are paid less than male counterparts. And celebrities know how interviews work: In most cases, they feed reporters rehearsed soundbites, rarely straying from script.
Jennifer Lawrence is another figurehead on the wage gap issue, though unlike Blanchett, the 25-year-old actress has proudly courted the role.
In October, she wrote an essay in Lenny, Lena Dunham’s feminist newsletter, about being paid considerably less than her her male co-stars in American Hustle.
“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,” Lawrence wrote. “I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’” She doubted that her co-stars Christian Bale or Bradley Cooper felt that way.
The essay was divisive. A select few said her relatively low compensation for the movie was logistical: Lawrence was a late addition to the cast, at which point the production was already over budget. On the other end of the spectrum, some feminists were disappointed that she “blamed herself” for the industry’s failings.
Naturally, the subject came up again in her December Vogue interview, with Lawrence clarifying that “what I was trying to say is that we’re not victims”—another sentiment that many feminists will likely disagree with. “I am holding my own self back. The men aren’t to be blamed for asking for more and getting it.”
As the New York Times Magazine cover feature demonstrated, the wage gap is a profoundly important issue for women in Hollywood (dozens of major players were interviewed for the story). They’re speaking out now more than ever, and the media are desperate to give them a soapbox. As the narrative goes, gender inequality in Hollywood is symptomatic of gender inequality on a larger scale, across all industries.
Another question that’s become requisite when interviewing female celebrities—“Do you consider yourself a feminist?”—has occasionally backfired.
Take Meryl Streep, who has long waved the feminist flag but referred to herself as a “humanist” instead while promoting Suffragette in September.
Like Blanchett, she was defying pat narratives and tidy labels.
Maybe she just didn’t feel like playing along that day. So she threw a curveball that was better fodder for the media anyway, cloned in news headlines and clickbait think-pieces: “Greatest Feminist Actress Denies Being a Feminist!”
Beyond the clickbait, we can’t blame actresses like Blanchett and Streep for being tired of answering the same question. It’s a vicious circle: pay inequality exists in Hollywood, famous actresses are Hollywood figureheads, talent is interviewed when they’re promoting a movie, and so Hollywood actresses—especially commanding, eloquent ones like Blanchett—will be asked about the pay issue.
Blanchett’s comments on equality for women in Hollywood are admirably straightforward: We can talk about the wage gap at symposiums and in the press until we’re blue in the face, but we’re wasting our breath until actresses—and the paymasters and studio heads—do something about it.
Lawrence has shown herself to be an expert at the latter. Whether you’re an established actress or ingénue—and whether you’re asked “the question” or not—agency is more effective and significant than doing, or saying, nothing at all.