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How Jessica Chastain Negotiated Equal Pay for Octavia Spencer

In their contract and wage negotiations, employees often operate in a vacuum — not knowing what their coworkers are asking for (or receiving).
workplace sexism
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Hollywood is no different, which can lead to appalling pay gaps between actors and actresses. But when Jessica Chastain recently came to the table to talk salary for an upcoming comedy with Octavia Spencer, she didn’t just negotiate her own paycheck — she demanded equal pay for her co-star, too.

The result: a very public salary raise for Spencer.

Spencer, let’s not forget, made history recently by becoming “the first African American actress to be nominated for multiple Academy Awards after a win,” according to CNN. Chastain has been nominated twice for Academy Awards, and won a Golden Globe in 2013 for Zero Dark Thirty. Spencer won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2012 for The Help, and a Golden Globe in 2012 for the same role.

The Second Divide in Pay Equity

Actresses struggle to receive the same pay as their male counterparts on screen, but women of color have an added disadvantage.

In a panel at Sundance Film Festival, Spencer recalled, “I said, ‘But here’s the thing, women of color on that spectrum, we make far less than white women,'” she recalled. “So, if we’re gonna have that conversation about pay equity, we gotta bring the women of color to the table.”

Spencer continued, “[Chastain] said ‘You and I are gonna be tied together. We’re gonna be favored nations, and we’re gonna make the same thing. You are going to make that amount,'” Spencer said. “Fast-forward to last week, we’re making five times what we asked for.”

Rebecca Sun recently noted in The Hollywood Reporter that women of color have fewer opportunities for leading roles than white actresses.

“The institutional obstacles that contribute to the gender pay gap are compounded for women of color, who encounter even fewer significant opportunities, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes, than white women,” Sun wrote. “Less experience means lower pay, which means a lower quote, and with the supply of underrepresented talent outweighing demand, less leverage to negotiate for more — a vicious cycle.”

Of course, this pay gap doesn’t just exist in Hollywood, but the problems can be more obvious when we’re talking multi-million dollar paychecks splashed across headlines. And while the discussion over salary is a story as old as the Hollywood hills, we’re still not seeing equal pay for equal work when it comes to actors and actresses, not to mention those behind the scenes.

Standing Tall Together

At Sundance, Women Breaking Barriers panelists like Jada Pinkett Smith were ecstatic about the resulting raise.

“Jessica stood up for Octavia and I want you to know because they stood together, they got three times what they were asking for as a unit,” Pinkett Smith said. “It’s nice to go out and march, we can do that. It’s nice to wear black at the Golden Globes. But what are we doing behind closed doors? And I got to give our sister Jessica Chastain her props.”

Read more about the gender pay gap in PayScale’s report.

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