As it turns out, Jessica Chastain is not just a good negotiator in the movies, she's one in real life, too. At the Sundance Film Festival, it was revealed that Octavia Spencer got a big salary boost with a little help from Chastain. During the panel "Women Breaking Barriers," the actor explained that Spencer and Chastain negotiated together for higher salaries on their upcoming joint movie and are now making way more than they originally asked for. In fact, according to Spencer, she's making five times her asking salary. Yes, her story is a delightful tale of female friendship — seriously, can't wait to see the two actors starring in a holiday comedy — but it also shows why everyone in Hollywood needs to work together to bridge the pay gap. Especially the gap for women of color, who are paid far less than white woman, something Spencer brought to Chastain's attention.
“Here’s the thing, women of color on that spectrum, we make far less than white women,” Spencer told her The Help co-star. “So, if we’re gonna have that conversation about pay equity, we gotta bring the women of color to the table.” After all, according to Inequality.org, while white women make 80 cents for every dollar a white man earns, Black women make 64 cents.
Chastain admitted that naively she didn't realize how much harder it was for women of color and make it clear that she was going to work to fix that on this film. “I love that woman," Spencer told the crowd, "because she’s walking the walk and she’s actually talking the talk.... She said, ‘Octavia we’re gonna get you paid on this film. You and I are gonna be tied together. We’re gonna be favored nations, and we’re gonna make the same thing.' Fast forward to last week, we’re making five times what we asked for.”
To know that these two fought for what they deserve is a powerful thing, especially since Spencer said that it has inspired her to push further in any future negotiations. “Now, I want to go to what the men are making!" she said.
But it's even more meaningful after the controversy over the reported massive pay disparity between Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg for reshoots on their film All The Money In The World. USA Today reported that Williams was paid less than a thousand dollars — that is $80 per day for the two-week reshoots — while Wahlberg earned $1.5 million. According to The Hollywood Reporter, for the initial film shoot, Williams was paid just $625,000 to Wahlberg's $5 million.
The actor reportedly agreed to work for a reduced rate because she believed that re-casting Kevin Spacey "sends a message to predators." "I was immediately exhilarated," she told the L.A. Times. "I said, ‘My answer is yes. You can have my salary. You can have my Thanksgiving holiday. You can have whatever you want. Let's go do it.'"
Some wondered, though, if Williams would have been less inclined to take so little money if she had known how much Wahlberg was paid. If the two formed a united front when negotiating their salaries, like Spencer and Chastain, would they have been compensated equally? It's a question that more actors in Hollywood might start asking when signing on to a film.
Joint negotiations in Hollywood certainly aren't new. The Friends cast notably did this in 2002 with all six stars negotiating not as individuals, but as a team, to each get paid a million dollars an episode. According to Entertainment Weekly, this meant that Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer took a pay cut to make sure everything was fair. The Big Bang Theory cast did the same thing. According to People, Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar all took a voluntary pay cut so that co-stars Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch would get a raise.
After Jennifer Lawrence wrote an essay for Lenny Letter in 2015 opening up about making less than her male co-stars, her Silver Linings Playbook co-star Bradley Cooper revealed he had begun teaming up with his female co-stars on salary negotiations for a film. “I don’t know where it’s changing otherwise but that’s something that I could do,” he told Reuters. “Usually you don’t talk about the financial stuff, you have people. But you know what? It’s time to start doing that."
Talking about it is a good start, but taking action is what will really bring change. Chastain has been an outspoken advocate for gender equality in Hollywood, even sharing her salary negotiation tips with Variety. "I’m not taking jobs anymore where I’m getting paid a quarter of what the male co-star is being paid," she said. "I’m not allowing that in my life." It seems she's not allowing for anyone else in her life either. And, after news of Spencer's salary increase was reported, Chastain tweeted, "She had been underpaid for so long. When I discovered that, I realized that I could tie her deal to mine to bring up her quote. Men should start doing this with their female costars."
The actor put her money where her mouth is. Now, more stars in Hollywood need to do the same to prove their dedication to creating a more equal system.