Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda know a thing or two about workplace discrimination against women. With Dolly Parton, they starred in the 1980 movie “9 to 5,” which depicted three women working in an office who take revenge for the different ways they’re being mistreated. Tomlin’s character keeps getting passed up for promotions that are instead given to bumbling men and told it’s because men “have a family to support.” Parton’s character is the target of constant sexually harassing remarks and office gossip that she’s having an affair with the boss who can’t stop ogling her.
So the irony is thick that Fonda and Tomlin, the two stars of Netflix’s new show “Grace and Frankie,” say they are being paid unfairly in comparison to their fellow male actors.
In a recent press event, the actresses revealed that while they are both the headliners and main characters of the new show, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, the supporting actors who play their gay ex-husbands, are making the same amount as them.
“That doesn’t make us happy,” Fonda said. And Tomlin explained, “No. The show is not ‘Sol and Robert’ [Sheen and Waterston’s characters] — it’s ‘Grace and Frankie.'”
Even when women play the title characters, it seems it’s not enough for them to close the wage gap. And Hollywood has come under fire for a widespread gender pay problem. After the Sony hack that leaked executives’ emails, we learned that the female actors in “American Hustle” were getting less compensation than the male ones. This is despite the fact that Amy Adams had been nominated for four Academy Awards and Jennifer Lawrence starred in the smash hit “The Hunger Games.”
Charlize Theron was also making $10 million less than her male co-star, Chris Hemsworth, for “The Huntsman.” So after the Sony hack, she decided to fight for a raise to bring their pay on par, and she won.
On the whole, female actresses are not making nearly as much as male ones. Among Forbes’ list of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, men net a collective $465 million, nearly two and a half times the $181 million the women make together. The highest grossing actor, Robert Downey Jr., makes $75 million, more than what the two top-paid actresses, Angelina Jolie ad Jennifer Lawrence, make combined.
The explanation some might give is that there are fewer lead roles for women, so there are fewer chances for them to make the big paychecks. (Tomlin and Fonda, of course, prove that even when they get a chance at the leads, the pay may not be fair.) Women got to be protagonists in just 12 percent of 2014’s top-grossing movies, an actual decline of four percentage points since 2002.
Executives may feel that it’s a risky financial bet to put a woman in these roles. But the numbers don’t support their fears. In 2013, movies centered around female actors grossed $127 million, on average, nearly a third more than the $95 million male-centered movies grossed on average. It also pays to give women quality roles. Movies that pass the Bechdel test — they have at least two female characters with names that have a conversation about something other than a male character — have smaller budgets, but they bring in more money for each dollar spent than those that fail the test.
Women in Hollywood may not deserve their pay gaps, then. But lower pay follows women into virtually every job they choose, so it’s not surprising. And while there are large wage gaps for some of the lowest-paid women, they reach as high as millionaire celebrities and CEOs.