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

About

Maria Giese (www.mariagiese.com) co-founded the activist/agitator web forum that helped initiate the EEOC joint government agency investigation for women directors. She directed two feature films: When Saturday Comes and Hunger, based on the novel by Nobel Prize-winner, Knut Hamsun. She writes and lectures regularly about women directors, and is currently attached to direct several feature films. Educated at Wellesley College and UCLA Graduate School of Film and Television, she is a member of the Directors Guild