Jennifer Lawrence: Legal Tipping Point for Women in Hollywood?

shutterstock_195767792The recent “Guardians of Peace” Sony hacks are rocking Hollywood this holiday season with revelations of studio-wide sexism.

News that Jennifer Lawrence, arguably the biggest movie star of the moment, received lower pay than her less-famous male co-stars on 2013’s American Hustle could spell catastrophe for Sony—and new hope for women if the revelations lead to action.

According to The Daily Beast, a Columbia Pictures president sent an email to Amy Pascal, who co-chairs Sony alongside Michael Lynton, on December 5 regarding the pointsbackend compensation that is paid after the film is releasedreceived by Lawrence and the other stars of American Hustle.

While Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and director David O. Russell received nine points of profit, Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams got 7. And Jennifer Lawrence was originally slated to receive just 5.

This revelation, unfortunately too commonplace in Hollywood to be shocking, could be the long-awaited “tipping point” needed for state and federal agencies to launch industry-wide legal action to fight gender inequity under Title VII.

More hopeful still, Lawrence’s lower pay (as well as new information about Sony’s studio-wide gender pay gap among staffers) could set off a domino effect of class-action sex discrimination lawsuits against all Hollywood studios.

It’s been a long time coming. In 1978, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission prepared a significant, in-depth report detailing race and sex discrimination in Hollywood, but at that time the agency was not authorized to sue.

And in 1983, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) led a class-action discrimination lawsuit against three major studios on behalf of its women and ethnic minority members, but by 1985 the Guild was disqualified from leading the class because the judge ruled that the Guild itself discriminates against women and minorities.

Traditionally, thanks to studio secrecy and employee fear of blacklisting, Hollywood studios have been undaunted by legal reprisals for gender bias, and audacious in continuing rampant sex discrimination. So far, not much has changed in a post-leaked-email world.

While Amy Pascal admitted to Jennifer Lawrence’s pay disparity, saying “there is truth here,” she has yet to apologize or accept responsibility for Sony’s apparent studio-wide policy of discriminating against women, from staffers to stars.

The good news is the leaked emails knocked down the wall of secrecy on pay at Sony, allowing women to see, unquestionably, that they’re being paid less than their male counterparts.

Lack of transparency stands as one of women’s biggest barriers to pay equality, but lifting the curtain can lead to systemic change. Take the example of Lily Ledbetter: Once an insider friend at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company informed Ledbetter that her male colleagues were getting paid more, she sued. The suit went all the way to the Supreme Court and resulted in the groundbreaking Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, signed into law by President Obama.

For women in Hollywood, the new “Guardians of Peace” leaks may become historic in the centuries-long fight for gender equality.

Gathering “smoking gun” evidence on sex discrimination in an industry as secretive as Hollywood has proven to be extremely difficult, not only because of lack of transparency, but also because getting hired in Hollywood is largely based on personal relationships; the many, many women who do experience sex discrimination fear blacklisting if they speak out.

If women and U.S. civil liberties organizations can use evidence like the “Guardians of Peace” leaks to demonstrate how gender-pay inequity is rampant in American media, and they can prove that cases like that of Jennifer Lawrence are examples of deeply entrenched, industry-wide discrimination, then they can encourage state and federal agencies to create Title VII class action lawsuits for women in Hollywood. And that’s how real change gets made.

Photo of Jennifer Lawrence via Shutterstock

Screen shot 2014-12-17 at 3.01.38 PMMaria Giese directed the feature film When Saturday Comes and the award-winning indie feature, Hunger, based on the novel by Nobel Prize winner, Knut Hamsun. Educated at Wellesley College and UCLA Graduate School of Film and Television, she is an active member of the DGA and currently serves as the Women’s DGA Director Category Rep. Check her out online and read her activist/agitator web forum.


  1. I wish women got equal pay in Hlyd. However comparing Ledbetter to an Jennifer Lawrence is specious: Lawrence didn’t perform the exact same job as the male stars in the movie. Ledbetter was pples to apples. However, Lawrence’s agent should have fought harder for the backend $.

  2. Joan Reese says:

    Pretty abridged version of Lily Ledbetter’s long and unsuccessful (for herself) fight against pay inequity for men and women with the same experience and credentials. If you were going to use Ledbetter’s experience as an example, perhaps you should have explained it more honestly.

  3. I could see Bale getting more than Lawrence – he was the lead, she wasn’t. But by that logic Amy Adams should have gotten 9 points, not Bradley Cooper and certainly not Jeremy Renner, who had the smallest role of the five and certainly has the least box office draw of the five.

  4. IMO this is the wrong film to try and make this point. JL’s role was significantly smaller than any of the other mentioned actors and she had previously indicated her willingness to make concessions in order to work with this director . Seems like a contrived issue here

    • mountsalish says:

      Lawrence’s role was as large, if not larger, than Renner’s. Further, Jennifer Lawrence’s presence in the film was heavily promoted in trailers. Renner was not. Yet Renner received 8% and Lawrence 7%.

      Amy Adams was the lead actress opposite Christian Bale. Bale received 9% and Adams 7%.

      Bradley Cooper was supporting as well. He received 9%.

      The categories broke down as follows: males got 9%. females 7%.

  5. If you don’t like your pay negotiate for a better wage, or don’t take the position!

    • Elene Gusch says:

      You’ve got to be kidding, JC. In how many jobs have you personally had a choice about your pay? How many times have you had any idea what others doing the same job were being paid? What year are you living in and on what planet?

    • IOW: Let’em eat cake.

  6. Elene Gusch says:

    I’m an independent health care practitioner, and in theory I can charge whatever I wish, but in practice I have to accept what insurance companies are willing to give me– which has been dropping even though their members are paying them more in premiums and copays– and what uninsured patients can afford. I have a far better situation than low-wage retail workers and the like, but even so I have almost zero ability to “negotiate.” And at least I have a clear idea of what the going rate is and what the competition earns.

  7. Carlotta Tyler says:

    I’m amazed at the majority of these comments. They seem to miss the larger issue by nit-picking in the weeds: “The roles weren’t comparable”. “So and So is a bigger draw”. “She did it wrong – negotiate more, get more aggressive agent”. The larger issue is uncovering the practice. The larger issue is transparency, a rare commodity in organizations re: wages.
    Where is our feminist outrage?

  8. We do have feminist outrage. We are just so busy defending women who are being tortured by men and things such as women in jail because they defended themselves, or had a fender bender while pregnant and are being accused of attempted homicide. We’re spread pretty thin. I agree with you Carlotta, completely. I guess we are just picking our battles, but there is, as always, a lot of victim blaming going on here. I do not like that the pressure is supposed to be on women to speak out. When Black men are murdered for no reason by the police, there are plenty of Caucasian protesters. When women are murdered and tortured, where are the men? They all say “YOU should…” — even the author of this article calls on women to do the work, and “that’s how real change is made.” No, it’s not. Lawsuits are helpful, but that’s not how real change is made. It’s made by MASS protests, and by war.

    • As the author, I am grateful for Carlotta’s and Agatha’s comments and abilities to see the larger picture. And it is true that Mass Protests and War are very effective ways to make change. In terms of fighting for equality for women in U.S. media, I’m strongly in favor of both and will gladly lead the charge. Before mass protests or war are possible, however, we need to convince a mass of people that this issue is critically important. Media is America’s most influential global export, and women’s voices are almost 100% missing from it. To convince a mass of people of the urgent need for change, we must first assess our statistics, explain our equal employment laws, prove Title VII violations, get individual women and MEN to speak out; we must gather steam by getting support from mainstream media, civil liberties groups, state and federal agencies, and even industry guilds. Then perhaps we can even sidestep protests and war– perhaps we can go straight to court, and to the negotiating tables to demand compliance of America’s great and hard-won equal rights laws. Title 9 has worked beautifully, Title 7 is more difficult because it means a change in distribution of wealth based on gender. Most guys don’t like that, nor do the women who have found their little niches in the boys’ club.

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