Mila Kunis Calls Out Sexist Hollywood Producer in Open Letter
In a lengthy essay, the actress opens up about her experiences with sexism in the workplace and her commitment to gender equality.
With all this talk of the impending apocalypse and Drake dating Taylor Swift, it’s hard to remember that we’re actually living in a golden age: of television, memes, and, most importantly, celebrity open letters. With all of the words of an epistle and none of the privacy, the open letter is a diary that’s literally asking to be read. But what does this genre have to offer us that we can’t get from a celebrity interview or a Chrissy Teigen tweet storm? It turns out, some topics are so multi-layered, so nuanced, that they actually benefit from more than 140 characters’ worth of consideration. This year alone, we’ve been mildly inspired by Jennifer Aniston’s Huffington Post epic about how a forty-something woman wearing an empire waist top is not a pregnancy announcement and also please leave her alone. We’ve been momentarily jarred out of our cynical cycle of Internet consumption by Gabrielle Union’s beautiful, poignant personal essay on Birth of a Nation and rape culture. And we’ve been verbally hit upside the head by celebrities endorsing Hillary Clinton and, more expressly, campaigning against Donald Trump.
Of course, having a face that’s proportioned according to the golden ratio doesn’t always indicate a great mind at work. But there’s nothing better than discovering that your fave also happens to have a set of intelligent, woke politics. Who didn’t love hearing America Ferrera rip Donald Trump a new one at the DNC? The Internet’s boyfriend Riz Ahmed also has an appropriately hot take on brown people navigating post-9/11 airport security.
But in a world where “humanism” is still a thing, feminist manifestos have become a particularly heartwarming subset of the ever-evolving genre. Naturally, the revelation that the Republican candidate for president of the United States bragged about grabbing women by the genitals sparked a bit of a backlash. Amber Tamblyn quickly took up the mantle of her Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants co-star, proving that feminism really is one size fits all. First, Tamblyn posted an Instagram detailing her experience with an abusive ex-boyfriend. After her social media stand made waves, the actress and poet penned an essay for Glamour. Revealing her pregnancy for the first time—the baby is a girl—Tamblyn mused about the way the world was “built by and for men.” “How much do I have to do, as a daughter and a soon-to-be mother, to change not just the conversation about how women are seen,” Tamblyn wrote, “but the language with which conversations are spoken in?”
Rose McGowan has already proven her dedication to steering the conversation. The indefatigable actress has outed “casual” misogyny in Hollywood, ranted against the patriarchy, and shown how the political is always personal. Like Tamblyn, McGowan was driven by the prospect of a groper-in-chief to share her own experience with sexual assault. After writing that she was raped by an unnamed Hollywood studio executive, McGowan penned an open letter urging Hollywood to shun alleged abusers. She addressed her note, “To the women and men in the entertainment industry, who know exactly whom and what I am talking about,” continuing, “I say be brave. Do not work with those you know to be offenders or you are no better than they. Take a stand.”
And on Wednesday Mila Kunis added her voice to the movement, in a lengthy letter on microaggressions in the entertainment industry. Kunis opens on an anecdote about a producer who threatened her after she refused to pose semi-naked on the cover of a men’s magazine to promote a film, telling the That ’70s Show actress that, “You’ll never work in this town again.” Spoiler alert: That was an empty threat. Kunis explains, “I was livid, I felt objectified, and for the first time in my career I said ‘no.’ And guess what? The world didn’t end. The film made a lot of money and I did work in this town again, and again, and again.”
Being a Hollywood actress is, unquestionably, a pretty sweet gig. But while being ridiculously good-looking (and rich) can protect against a lot of things—having to get your own coffee, buy your own clothes, or fly economy—gender bias in the workplace is basically unavoidable. Unless you live in a fantasy world (or Mosuo), you’re probably working under the patriarchy. For Kunis, that means that, “Throughout my career, there have been moments when I have been insulted, sidelined, paid less, creatively ignored, and otherwise diminished based on my gender.” The actress responded to this well-documented phenomenon by forming “my own club,” an all-female production company.
Unfortunately, like black mold or a particularly pesky mouse problem, men are freaking everywhere. When Kunis’s company agreed to partner with an influential male producer, she probably expected a modicum of respect. Instead, in the midst of an email conversation with a major network about pitching a show, she received this from the producer: “And Mila is a mega star. One of biggest actors in Hollywood and soon to be Ashton's wife and baby momma!!!" Kunis was, understandably, pissed: “This is the entirety of his email. Factual inaccuracies aside, he reduced my value to nothing more than my relationship to a successful man and my ability to bear children. It ignored my (and my team’s) significant creative and logistical contributions.” This email is even more offensive when you consider the fact that, objectively, Kunis is just as famous as Ashton Kutcher. She is a beloved actress who can more than hold her own—you’re really going highlight the fact that she knows the guy who hosted Punk’d?
While Kunis’s production company withdrew their involvement in the project, she emphasizes that this anecdote is just one tiny piece of the puzzle. “It’s these very comments that women deal with day in and day out in offices, on calls, and in emails — microaggressions that devalue the contributions and worth of hard-working women.”
When faced with the pervasive gender bias that appears to infect our society on a molecular level, what’s a girl to do? Kunis has a few ideas. She writes, “I’m done compromising; even more so, I'm done with being compromised. So from this point forward, when I am confronted with one of these comments, subtle or overt, I will address them head on; I will stop in the moment and do my best to educate. I cannot guarantee that my objections will be taken to heart, but at least now I am part of creating an environment where there is the opportunity for growth. And if my comments fall on deaf ears, I will choose to walk away.” She concludes, “I will work in this town again, but I will not work with you.” You tell ’em, Mila! Bad Moms may have just been, like, fine but it killed at the box office. Plus, true equality will never be possible until women are allowed to produce and star in projects that are just as mediocre as the boring, over-hyped shit that dudes do.
Kunis recognizes that other women may not have the financial solvency or the platform with which to take a stand. Still, her point about gender bias in the workplace is a relatable, nearly universal one. According to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the average working woman in 2015 made 80 percent of what a man did. Plus, the last time the pay gap closed significantly was way back in 2007. As in all things, race adds nuance to this already bleak picture. For every dollar that a man earns, black women in America earn roughly 63 cents; Native American women make 59 cents to a man’s dollar. Despite its obvious limitations, Kunis’s efforts are contributing to a meaningful shift in Hollywood. Kunis is taking a stand in her own environment, against the daily injustices that she and her peers are facing. Change has to start somewhere.