Where Are Our Straight Male Allies in Hollywood?

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Every year, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California Annenberg publishes a study examining the presence of gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability in the top 100 grossing films of the year. While not a panoramic picture of representation in Hollywood, it is nevertheless a good barometer of how Hollywood is doing.

The study is both clear and actionable: it identifies areas where Hollywood is deficient, uses data to back up the claim, and offers remedies. And yet every year, the picture looks the exact same: despite recent movements for more diversity on screen, Hollywood is still all about straight white men when it comes to big blockbuster movies.

The following are three key points made by the study: 1) In the last ten years, women have averaged only 30.75% of speaking roles in the top movies, and there have been just over two men for every woman on screen. 2) The percentages of minority characters have not changed in the last ten years. Of the top 100 films in 2017, 43 had no black women, 65 had no Asian women, 64 had no Latinas, and 94 had no lesbian or bisexual women. 3) Only 0.21% of all the characters in the study were lesbian (nine total out of 4,403). Just under half of LGBT characters have judged to be inconsequential to the movie’s plot, meaning that they are token characters thrown as a bone to the idea of diversity.

Literally Hollywood. Just a bunch of dudes.

Let’s break down Hollywood’s gender problem into two parts: women (broadly) and lesbian and bisexual women (specifically). The study’s authors have argued for years that addition of just five more speaking roles for female characters in each movie would quickly cut down the gender representation gap; problem solved. And yet as the numbers show, no such change is happening even though the men in Hollywood holding the reins of power easily have the ability to change this.

For every Black Widow, Gamora, Shuri and Scarlett Witch, there’s a Captain America, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Hawkeye, Hulk, Vision, Black Panther, Winter Soldier, Thor, Loki, Falcon, Rocket Raccoon, War Machine, Star-Lord, etc. (Of the 43 named characters in “Avengers: Infinity War,” only 14 are female…you guessed it, 32%, as predicted by the Annenberg study.) Why aren’t A List male actors, directors and producers looking at the casting notes and questioning why women are under-represented by 20%, and why aren’t they creating more of a ruckus on our behalf? Rather than standing up for the idea of an all-female reboot to give women more roles, why did Dan Akroyd pile on with the misogynist Internet trolls against the new “Ghostbusters” for not featuring him enough instead?

In fact, representation on screen is only half of the picture; the most visually obvious one. The gender pay gap is the other half, the iceberg below the waterline that reflects the lack of respect that Hollywood shows towards its female members. Consider the following anecdote: in 2017, scenes for the movie “All the Money in the World” were re-shot over the course of 10 days to replace disgraced actor Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer.

Actor Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million for the re-shoot. His costar Michelle Williams was given $80 a day for the same. Doing the math, Williams (who has been nominated for four Oscars and has 56 acting credits) received 0.053% of what Wahlberg (who has been nominated for two Oscars and has 65 acting credits) was paid. Contrary to press reports that Williams made “one percent of what Wahlberg made,” she made actually half of a tenth of a one-hundredth of what he made. Yes, Wahlberg is one of the highest paid actors in the world, but is the difference 1,875% different between them? Both Williams and Wahlberg use William Morris Endeavor as their talent agency, meaning that Williams’ own agents would have known about this disparity and let it slide.

For the guy who made the most money in this movie, Marky Mark looks tiny on the poster.

This unfair situation might have been swept under the rug, protected by some Hollywood bro code. Director Ridley Scott initially claimed, when asked, that the reshoots were done by the actors unpaid, but then word of the injustice was leaked to USA Today and the issue was amplified on Twitter by the likes of actresses Jessica Chastain and Busy Philipps and a few men like actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson and director Judd Apatow.

As a direct result, a week later, Wahlberg donated his $1.5 million and William Morris donated an additional $500,000 to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund in Williams’ name, with Wahlberg Tweeting his support for fair pay. Although Williams responded graciously and positively to the move, it’s hard to resist a certain cynical skepticism that the donation would not have happened had the news not gone viral, forcing the players to respond.

Moreover, the donation begs the question of whether Wahlberg or William Morris bothered to even ask Williams if she’d like a share of the money, or whether they just preferred to take the tax deductible charitable contribution option. For perspective, given the Internet estimates Williams’ net worth to be $16 million, giving Williams half of that money would have represented a 6.25% increase in her worth. That kind of a bump helps salve the burn.

It would be nice to view this pay gap incident as an isolated and unintentional accident, but obviously it’s not. In 2014, three years earlier, hacked documents from Sony Pictures revealed that Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale and Jeremy Renner all received a 9% cut of the profits from the movie “American Hustle” while Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams pocketed just 7%, a two percent difference that ultimately represented millions of dollars for each of the two women. It’s no accident that in the 2018 Forbes list of the world’s 100 highest paid celebrities, only 15 are women and only one is coded as an actress:

Scarlett Johansson, who at #76 falls behind six actors. Her Avengers co-star Robert Downey Jr., for the record, rings in at #20. In fact, Gwyneth Paltrow has specifically used her Avengers salary compared to Downey’s to highlight Hollywood’s unfair gender pay gap, but Downey appears to have kept mum on the subject. It’s great to be a straight, white male.

Sadly, dressing like Iron Man doesn’t give you his circa $63.75 million salary for “Captain America: Civil War.”

After the Sony Pictures hack, Cooper vowed to tell his female costars his salary so that they could better negotiate their own salaries, but his charitable approach to the gender gap evidently hasn’t spread far in Hollywood: in 2017, longtime E! News and Daily Pop host Catt Sadler discovered that her male equivalent at the network, Jason Kennedy, with whom she started the same year and who did essentially similar jobs was making double her salary and had for several years. When Sadler asked for more equal pay, however, E! refused, so Sadler left the network. Kennedy’s response? He Tweeted, “I hate goodbyes but I’ll save it for the show tonight, love you so much pal, really going to miss you.” With guy friends like this, who needs enemies?

When it comes to male allies in Hollywood willing to increase the number of women featured in big blockbuster movies, there are several, although they’re rare. Director, writer and producer Paul Feig, for example, has been behind female-led comedies such as “Bridesmaids,” “The Heat,” “Snatched,” the “Ghostbusters” reboot and “Spy.” As he told Entertainment Weekly: The Show, “I love making movies with these great female characters in them because there are so few roles.” More than just platitudes about how great women are (*cough many male actors cough*), Feig is actually creating space for women, putting money where his mouth is. However, the fact remains that the number of men willing to specifically fight for more female roles, much less for better pay parity, can probably be counted on one hand.

Today I learned that there will be sequels to “Spy” and “The Heat.” Yaaaay.

The number of Hollywood’s straight male allies for lesbian and bisexual female characters, on the other hand, can probably be counted on zero hands. Think of a straight male Emily Andras or Shonda Rhimes, who has committed to always having gay representation on every project even though they themselves are straight. Think either movies or TV. Go on, I’ll wait. Even Feig, that great supporter of women, backed down from showing Kate McKinnon’s character Jillian Holtzman as a lesbian in “Ghostbusters.”

In 2009, actor and producer Brad Pitt donated $100,000 to fighting Proposition 8, the California law which made same-sex marriage illegal in the state. In 2012, he gave $100,000 to the Human Rights Campaign to support its fight for gay marriage. Pitt, who once announced that he and now ex-Angelina Jolie would not get married until it was legal for gays to marry nationally (except then they did anyway, in 2014, ten months before gay marriage was legalized), is clearly an ally.

But name a movie with which he’s been involved that’s had a lesbian or bisexual female character. The answer is two: “Running With Scissors” (2006) and his literally blink and you missed it cameo in “Deadpool 2” (2018). Pitt may give money to LGBT causes, but he’s making no effort to expand gay and lesbian visibility on screen, despite the fact that he has the star power and credentials to do it.

Deadpool could definitely have more of this in the future.

In a similar vein, director/producer Steven Spielberg also gave $100,000 to fight Prop 8, but of the hundreds of movies with which he’s been involved over the decades, I count only three that had lesbian or bisexual female characters (“The Color Purple” (1985), “The Haunting” (1999, uncredited), and “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (2018)). Spielberg is happy to give money to LGBT causes, but he’s not on the front lines making sure that those same LGBT individuals have a seat at the representation table. Why not? Why is it that some straight men in Hollywood are happy to give sound bites to the press about the need for equality for LGBT people in society writ large, but they have made no effort to make sure that these same people get equal representation on screen? Where are the Bradley Cooper types out there championing the gay world?

To be clear: there are male allies who regularly put tons of lesbian and bisexual female characters into their TV projects. For example, Greg Berlanti, whose long resume includes helping produce “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Supergirl,” “Legends of Tomorrow,” “Riverdale,” “Black Lightning,” and “Batwoman.” Ryan Murphy of “Glee,” “American Horror Story,” “Pose,” “Scream Queens,” and “Nip/Tuck” is another. But these are gay men. We should not have to rely on people from within our own community, gay men who still have privilege based on their skin color and gender despite their homosexuality, to view lesbian and bisexual female characters as important.

More of this, please, but also on the big screen.

AfterEllen’s founding slogan was “Because visibility matters,” but it’s hard for our community to push forward when even now, in 2018, there are no power players outside our immediate community willing to champion us. It’s hard for us to drive forward if our articles stay within the lesbian community and don’t get pushed out to the eyes in Hollywood that need to see it. So long as members of Hollywood pat themselves on the back for receiving ally awards for LGBT-positive Tweets or for attending LGBT fundraising events, we can’t move forward. We need directors, producers, cast and crew, to change who and what is on the screen. Otherwise, the Annenberg study will never change, and every year we’ll have the same conversation about stagnation in representation.

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