“We’re very much a sexist society,” actress Jennifer Aniston said in a 2015 interview with the New York Times, addressing not just the constant questions she faces about marriage and children, but about recent revelations of pay discrimination and salary negotiation in Hollywood.
“Women are still not paid as much as men,” Aniston continued. “I’ve been up against that in negotiations myself.”
Aniston was referring an interesting and damning tidbit concerning a business negotiation, leaked by the Sony hackers in December of 2014: the news that actress Jennifer Lawrence earned less back-end compensation than her male co-stars—Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and Jeremy Renner—for their work in the 2013 film “American Hustle.”
The lack of wage parity was documented in a December 5, 2013 email from Columbia Pictures executive Andrew Gumpert to Amy Pascal, the co-chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment. Columbia, a subsidiary of Sony, co-financed “American Hustle” with Annapurna Pictures.
Gumpert wrote that Lawrence’s legal representatives had complained that it was “unfair the male actors get 9% in the pool and [Lawrence] is only at 7pts.” That is, Lawrence was being paid 7% of the film’s profits, while Bale, Cooper, and Renner each were earning 9%. The film’s other female star, Amy Adams, was tied at 7% with Lawrence. The salaries the actors were paid upfront to make the film remain unknown.
Gumpert also reminded Pascal that Lawrence’s percentage of the take originally had been set at just 5%, a figure that Sony boosted to 7%. He then suggested that if anyone were to bump up Lawrence’s pay to 9%—and consequently Adam’s as well—it should be Annapurna Pictures.
“There is truth here,” Pascal wrote to Gumpert, acknowledging the lack of parity. It’s unknown whether Lawrence and her team’s bargaining skills paid off in their quest to match the back-end pay of her male counterparts.
There was no obvious explanation, other than gender discrimination, for Lawrence—or Adams, for that matter—being paid less than her male colleagues. “American Hustle” was an ensemble film, and Lawrence, Adams, Bale, and Cooper all received Oscar nominations for their performances. Though younger than her colleagues, Lawrence was already an established box-office draw as the star of the billion-dollar “Hunger Games” franchise. Adams was a proven hit-maker as well.
The Sony leak also revealed a gender pay gap within the ranks of Hollywood executives. A Sony spreadsheet listing the salaries of the firm’s top executives showed that Hannah Minghella, co-president of production at Columbia Pictures, earned almost $1 million less than the man holding the same job, Michael De Luca. Of the 17 Sony employees earning more than $1 million, only one was a woman.
In negotiation, discrimination can be subtle and unconscious. Our deeply ingrained attitudes—such as the expectation that men should be the primary breadwinners for their families, and thus deserve to earn more than women—can be difficult to overcome, research has shown.
There has been much debate over whether the information conveyed in the Sony leaks is newsworthy. In the case of the salary revelations, the leaks could raise awareness of persistent pay inequities that emerge between men and women in business negotiation, and not just in Hollywood.
The leaks also could inspire women to follow the lead of Jennifer Lawrence and “lean in,” in the words of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg. By having her team speak up when it became clear she was being paid less than her male colleagues, Lawrence could motivate women in other realms to brush up their salary negotiation skills and strategies.
Discover how to refine your negotiation skills with this free special report, Salary Negotiations: How to Negotiate Salary: Learn the Best Techniques to Help You Manage the Most Difficult Salary Negotiations and What You Need to Know When Asking for a Raise, from Harvard Law School.