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Examining Hollywood's Pay Disparities

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Actress Amanda Syefried caused a stir in Hollywood this past week for telling an interviewer with Britain's Sunday Times she had been paid just 10 percent of what her male co-star received for a movie made a few years ago, but she didn't say which movie.

MATTHEW BELLONI: If she was opposite someone who had been established as a box office star - say, a Channing Tatum or a Bradley Cooper or someone like that - it would not be shocking that someone who is on the rise, such as she has been, would not make that much.

RATH: That's Matthew Belloni, executive editor of The Hollywood Reporter.

BELLONI: Now, where you get into trickier questions is when the star power is in question or when the star power arguably favors the woman, and the man is still paid more.

RATH: Belloni says the debate over the Hollywood pay gap got a kick-start from an unlikely pace.

BELLONI: It started with the Sony hack...

RATH: Right.

BELLONI: ...Where documents were revealed that showed that Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams made significantly less money than their co-stars Jeremy Renner and Christian Bale in "American Hustle" - and specifically Jennifer Lawrence, who has an Oscar and is a proven box office star via "The Hunger Games." The question was, well, why is she making less than these guys who were not necessarily as big a box office star.

RATH: Right.

BELLONI: Other actresses, such as Patricia Arquette - she said something at the Oscars about equality when it comes to salaries. Charlize Theron, who is doing a sequel to "Snow White And The Huntsman" for Universal - she leveraged that smartly to get herself a raise and basically said, I'm not going to be paid less than my male co-star in this movie, especially since you can make an argument that Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth are about the same when it comes to star power. Why should she make less?

RATH: Now, the reasons for this pay gap - is it just as simple as old-fashioned, unreconstructed sexism? Or is there something peculiar about Hollywood?

BELLONI: I think that's a complicated question and has a complicated answer because, for instance, if you look at the situation with "American Hustle" - you know, that was a studio that was run at the time by a woman, Amy Pascal. And it was a production company that made that movie - Annapurna Pictures, which is run by Megan Ellison, who is a woman. So it's not as if there aren't women in powerful positions in Hollywood making these decisions. But Amy Pascal, who was running Sony at the time, was asked about this issue later. And she said, essentially, it's not my responsibility to pay people - you know, to pay women more. My responsibility's to make the best deal that I can, and its representatives' responsibility to advocate for their client and get them the most money possible. So she was sort of putting it back on these actresses to say, you know what? Stand up for yourself. Be willing to walk away.

RATH: You mention that there are some women in power behind the scenes. And does the pay gap extend to the other side of the camera when we're talking about female directors, writers or studio executives?

BELLONI: I think the answer is yes, but most of the attention has focused on the lack of female directors - women even getting a chance to direct studio films. So something is happening there, and, you know, a lot of the blame has been placed on talent agencies who create these lists of possible directors. A lot of the blame has been placed on studios that - the argument is that they're less willing to entrust a hundred million dollars to a female director because of some sexist notion of being able to handle that kind of a budget. And when you see women as directors, they're typically on a lower budget and independent film. And the argument, at least, is that once you start giving women the opportunity to direct bigger budget, more franchise-style movies and they have success there, studios will become more comfortable with that. All it takes is people willing to bet on them.

RATH: Matthew Belloni is executive editor of The Hollywood Reporter. Matt, always good talking to you. Thank you.

BELLONI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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