Dear 100 Hour Board,
Emma Watson, famous for her role in the Harry Potter movies, recently became a spokeswoman for “HeForShe,” a campaign to invite men to support feminism. In her address to the UN she said that “I think that it is right that I am paid the same as my male counterparts.” At first glance this seems fair and equitable —equal pay for equal work—but then I thought about what that would mean in practice. It is not unusual in a movie for either the male lead or the female lead to be a much bigger box office draw than their counterpart. Let’s say Emma Watson will bring in a hundred million fans just because she is in the film, but her male counterpart will bring in only ten million fans. Should the superstar, who may contribute ten times as much as the counterpart to the economic success of the film really earn the same?
So, do you agree with Emma Watson that she should be paid the same as her male counterparts, or should she be paid according to the amount she earns for her employer as determined by the employer?
Sure, if a male actor is far more popular and is going to make the movie more popular, it would make sense that he would get paid more, right? So like, I would assume that Kristen Bell and Ted Danson are getting paid more on The Good Place than the 4 'baby actors' (they've used that term themselves) because Kristen and Ted are more famous and more high profile and likely bring in more revenue for the show. Does that bother me? No. But if they, as the two main white actors in the show, were getting paid more simply because they were white, then I would have an issue.
So, Daniel Radcliffe making more money from the Harry Potter movies than Emma makes sense to me, and I don't have any beef about it. Lead roles and more famous actors deserve their pay.
However, a lot of times that's not how it happens. I mean, just recently Adele Lim, a co-writer for Crazy Rich Asians left because her pay offer was (reportedly) about $110,000, while her white male counterpart, Peter Chiarelli, was offered $800,000 for the same job. Also, it doesn't make a lot of sense to pay Peter more. He's not particularly a more experienced writer, plus Crazy Rich Asians is a story about a rich Asian woman. Do you really think Chiarelli's work on that project is more valuable? Almost definitely not. And there are plenty of other significant women and minorities that have left projects based on pay gaps that aren't as justifiable as if it was just about 'popularity'.
Sometimes things are really complicated too. The women's US soccer team is a better team, but as this really interesting article helps lay out, figuring out how big the pay gap between the men's and women's teams is hard because exactly measuring the worth of a person and how much money they're bringing in is an exceptionally complex, perhaps an impossible task. Often, the very structure and organization of the system make it harder to parse out who deserves to be paid more.
So, say there's a movie where a woman - let's say someone like Jennifer Lawrence - is the lead role. Her male co-star, maybe... Zac Efron, why not, is getting paid less than her because his role is less significant in this film. However, the difference in pay raises an eyebrow, because the ratio of pay increase doesn't make a lot of sense. JLaw is making more, but not that much more, relative to her popularity as an actress and the importance of the lead role. So, while she is objectively making more money, it's clear that Efron's work is more valued because he's getting paid at a higher rate for a less significant role (and, I'd have to argue that Efron isn't going to "bring in as much revenue" as JLaw.) But that's pretty hard to prove, it's hard to tease out, and it's hard to use as convincing evidence to the "THE WAGE GAP IS FAKE" crowd (newsflash, the evidence says they're wrong.)
Relying on employers to "determine the monetary value" of an actor has some inherently flawed assumptions. I mean, when you ask this question, you need to wonder why we are so androcentric as a culture. Why are, in general, men's jobs better paid and more valued than women's jobs? Or, if women are working in the same job as a man, why are they often perceived as less competent? A little while ago, this video with good ol' Benny Shapiro and the Daily Wire showed a discourse about how 'female comedians aren't as funny, and if they are funny it's only because they're imitating men. Humor is a masculine trait' which is bogus and incredibly sexist. But, the evidence does seem to suggest that the work that men do is valued higher than women's - in medical fields, in academia, in artistic work, in professional spaces, in economics, in business (Why are secretaries, who do ALL of the grunt work for CEOs so easily made fun of, undervalued, and stereotypically overworked?), and in general (Teaching is a majorly female profession, and it deserves much higher value and wages than it gets).
The wage gap is bigger than acting, and it's bigger than Emma Watson. It's about the devaluation on a broader scale of women's work in the same fields as men. It's systematic and institutional, and I don't think we can count on institutions to equally value men and women unless we talk about it and fight for equality.
It's also important to keep in mind that Watson isn't just advocating for equality because she's trying to convince you that she deserves to be paid equally. Money is not something that she's worried about. She is using her privilege to speak up for the people who don't have as much power to make a difference as her, the people in smaller acting jobs where it has a lot less to do with whether Daniel Radcliffe is bringing in more money or if Emma Watson is.
I think what's happening here is that you're misunderstanding the use of the word equality as a social science term, creating an easy way to debase her argument. I believe she's not talking about equality of outcome, but equality of condition.
So here's what I'll tell you. I do think that people deserved to be paid according to their value. And that's what Watson is fighting for too - it's not about equal across the board. As an actor, she knows that supporting roles will make less than lead roles. It's about equal value, that a female lead role deserves to be valued just as much as a male lead role. And that is something that certainly is worth fighting for.
Hope this answers your question, at least to some degree.