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NPR Arts & Life

Hollywood Stars Speak Out In Effort To Combat Gender Pay Gap

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

She threatened to go public. That's party how actress Robin Wright says she negotiated equal pay for her role on the Netflix series "House Of Cards." She's one of a number of Hollywood stars who are speaking out about what they see as gender discrimination in salaries. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has more.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Robin Wright plays a calculating first lady in "House Of Cards." Claire Underwood will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HOUSE OF CARDS")

ROBIN WRIGHT: (As Claire Underwood) Now tell me. Am I really the sort of enemy you want to make?

BLAIR: Definitely not, but the character is part of the show's appeal. Robin Wright has been nominated for Emmy awards and won a Golden Globe for the role. In an interview with the Rockefeller Foundation this week, she said she knew the audience loved her character, which made it easier to ask for as much money as her co-star Kevin Spacey. Still, she says, negotiating with executives is tricky.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WRIGHT: It's a pandemic. I mean, let's face it - right? - the inequality - what? - women earn 82 percent of what their male counterparts make kind of on an average. And you do have to shame and guilt them into it.

BLAIR: Robin Wright is building on an argument other stars have made. Last year, Patricia Arquette made this impassioned speech when she accepted her Oscar for the movie "Boyhood."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PATRICIA ARQUETTE: It's our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

BLAIR: When Sony Pictures was hacked, emails revealed that Jennifer Lawrence was making less than her male counterparts in "American Hustle." She wrote an angry essay that got a lot of attention. This wage gap doesn't just affect actors in Hollywood.

TERRY LAWLER: Gaffers, grips - everybody is getting paid less in general.

BLAIR: Terry Lawler is executive director of New York Women in Film and Television. She says when it does come to actors' salaries, there's no transparency, so an agent might not know what a client's male co-stars are making.

LAWLER: One of the things that could solve that is if people who believed in pay equity would go ahead and make public what they were being paid.

BLAIR: How realistic is that?

MARK LITWAK: It's not realistic at all.

BLAIR: Mark Litwak is a lawyer and author of a number of books on deal making in the entertainment industry.

LITWAK: If they're making a huge amount of money, disclosing it may make it seem that they're, you know, very rich and privileged. And if they disclose that they're working for very little money, you know, that could hurt them in a future negotiation.

BLAIR: But at least one actor has been quoted as saying he'd be willing to share salary information. Last year, Bradley Cooper told Reuters it's time to start doing that. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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