Jennifer Lawrence Is Right! Hollywood = Wage Inequality

Jennifer Lawrence

When Sony was hacked in 2014, arguably by North Korea, it opened up Hollywood’s Pandora’s Box of dirty little secrets. Not only were some executives exposed as being snarky and possibly racist, but it also revealed honest truths about how women are perceived in the film industry and underpaid relative to men.

Even Movie Stars Feel the Gender Pay Burn

The email hack revealed that Angelina Jolie was referred to by film producer Scott Rudin as a “spoiled brat” in negotiations. If she were a man, she may not have been perceived this way. We also saw how Jennifer Lawrence was paid significantly less relative to her male peers in American Hustle even though she was the biggest star in the film coming off the heels of The Hunger Games.

Lawrence is an A-list star, an Academy Award winner, and one of the most bankable names in the industry. Yet both she and her American Hustle co-star Amy Adams received 7% of film earnings. Actors Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and Jeremy Renner, and director David O. Russell received 9% of proceeds.

The film reportedly grossed $251 million at the box office – with 7% equaling $17.57 million and 9% totaling $22.59 million. That is a difference of over $5 million. If the calculation is pegged to some other benchmark dollar amount, it still has financial consequences. No matter how you calculate the percentage of proceeds, this translates into real money.

Swallowing A Harsh Reality Pill

After being silent on the subject, Lawrence spoke up. On October 13, 2015, the actress wrote an open letter in Lenny (Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s newsletter) in response to learning this salary information. She said:

I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early. I didn’t want to keep fighting over millions of dollars that…I don’t need…. [T]here was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight. I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled’…. [When] I saw the payroll on the Internet [I] realized every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled”…. I’m over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable…. Jeremey Renner, Christian Bale, and Bradley Cooper all fought and succeeded in negotiating powerful deals for themselves. If anything, I’m sure they were commended for being fierce and tactical, while I was busy worrying about coming across as a brat and not getting my fair share.

A lot of her response has gender implications. Many women worry about being “liked” and fail to negotiate hard for themselves. The reality is that when women advocate well for themselves, they can face career-limiting backlash. We have all seen how assertive women get labeled a “B” in the workplace.

Her Team Failed Her, But Welcome to the Modern Workplace

My question is where was Lawrence’s agent? Why wasn’t her team at CAA or her lawyers pressing harder for parity and more money? They brought her up from 5% to 7%, but they also knew the men were getting 9%. Arguably, the male actors were not as big of a star as she was and possibly deserved less than what she earned.

Regardless, I will not get caught up in a “blame the victim” approach. Instead, I will point out that even women at the top of their field and who are wealthy are not immune to the realities everyday working women face. There are broader societal issues at play that this incident illustrates.

Wage inequality is paramount across all industries, and is more pronounced across race.

So What’s the Solution?

One solution is more transparency across all industries. If more people – men and women – see how much their peers are making, then this knowledge can help move the needle to diminish pay gaps. Transparency can help not just women, but also people of color and other groups that tend to receive less pay for similar work.

Sadly, we cannot solve societal ills and erase gender inequality overnight. However, if pay disparities are staring companies and executives right in the face, it makes it harder and harder to underpay classes of people – especially if the person who is underpaid brings more clout or experience to the table.

I say “right on Jennifer!” I am glad she chose to join the discussion and raise her voice. In the wake of the Sony hack, we shall see if there is change in Hollywood. Although I will not be holding my breath.

Only when money metrics, compensation on projects, and salary data are open and available for everyone to see will there be pressure to promote wage equality. Since companies do not want to share this information freely, we might have to wait for the next hack to see how much everyone else is making.


The Azara Group (TAG) is a consulting firm that promotes the development of leaders in an increasingly competitive and diverse marketplace – providing strategy consulting services and leadership training services to advance professional and life success. TAG leverages expertise in career strategy, diversity, negotiation skills, and business acumen to provide strategic advice and consulting services to help people and organizations get what they want, achieve their goals, and advance their business and career objectives. TAG also helps companies better attract, retain, and promote diverse talent, and develop robust diversity platforms and strategies to create a more inclusive workplace.

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