The outrage over Michelle Williams being paid $1.5m less than Mark Wahlberg is welcome

Responses to the unequal fee for reshoots on All the Money in the World show we're becoming less tolerant of the Hollywood pay gap.

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Ridley Scott’s hostage drama All the Money in the World is proving to be quite the magnet for scandal. Not bad for such an unremarkable movie. Scott and Sony, the studio which produced the picture, made quite a to-do about the lengths they had gone to in order to remove all traces of the disgraced Kevin Spacey from the film. Working flat-out, with Christopher Plummer replacing Spacey in the role of billionaire J. Paul Getty, 22 scenes were completely reshot in roughly six weeks in order to meet the picture’s late-December US release date. Just as importantly, it needed to pip to the post Danny Boyle’s upcoming TV series on the same subject: Trust, which goes out in March, with Donald Sutherland becoming the third actor in less than a year to play Getty.

The reshoots added $10m to the budget but, according to Scott, none of that came from any surplus fees to his stars, Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg. In December, he recalled the process by which he went into “battle mode” once he had decided on the reshoots: “So, I got on the phone to the cast. I said, ‘Will you come back [and reshoot]?’ They said, ‘Absolutely.’ I said, ‘For how much?’ They said, ‘For free.’ Everyone came back for nothing. That indicates how strong the feeling was.”

This appears now to be untrue. USA Today reported this week that “three people familiar with the situation but not authorised to speak publicly about it” had discussed the reshoot fees. Williams was reportedly paid the Screen Actors Guild mandated daily rate of $80, amounting to around $1,000, while Wahlberg got $1.5m, though their roles are roughly the same size. (If anything, Williams is the film’s lead. Her character is certainly its driving force.) Quite the big reveal, then, and painfully ironic for a movie whose very subject is the value we place on the things, and the people, we love.

It’s encouraging to see the outrage that has greeted this revelation, which contrasts with a similar situation three years ago. At the start of 2015, I attended a special screening of Tim Burton’s film Big Eyes, hosted by one of its producers, Harvey Weinstein, who was at that time campaigning for Amy Adams to get a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance (unsuccessfully, as it turned out). The story had recently surfaced about the pay disparity regarding David O. Russell’s comedy-drama American Hustle, for which Adams and Jennifer Lawrence had been paid considerably less than their male colleagues. Representatives of Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner each struck a deal for those actors to receive 9 per cent of the picture’s profits, while Adams and Lawrence were on 7 per cent each (after negotiations had increased Lawrence’s initial 5 per cent cut).

This news only surfaced in the first place because Sony’s emails were hacked in response to the studio’s release of The Interview, the Seth Rogen/ James Franco comedy which disparaged Kim Jong-un. (As Seth Meyers remarked at the Golden Globe awards on Sunday, “Remember when [Seth Rogen] was the guy making trouble with North Korea? Remember that? Simpler times.”)

Back to that Big Fish screening. Weinstein introduced the film and told us how much he respected and admired Adams for refusing to answer any interview questions about the pay-gap. She had simply insisted, Weinstein said, that her job was to be an actor, and that was as much as she was willing to say on the subject. He was right behind her on that, rooting for her all the way. My companion leaned in to me as Weinstein finished speaking. “Commending the little woman for keeping her big mouth shut?” she whispered. “What a sleazebag. And he has food down his shirt.” I took her first point. There was definitely something creepy about one of the most powerful men in Hollywood seeking our endorsement of women who keep shtum when they’re being treated unfairly. But steady on. Who are we to condemn a fellow just because he wolfed down his carbonara a tad enthusiastically?

How much has changed since then? Well, Lawrence addressed the matter in a persuasive piece for Lena Dunham's Lenny Letter at the end of 2015 in which she explained why she didn’t push harder in her negotiations on American Hustle. “I didn't want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’ At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn't worry about being ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’” She had let society’s pressure for women to be amenable and compliant win out over self-respect and fairness. “Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, and Bradley Cooper all fought and succeeded in negotiating powerful deals for themselves. If anything, I'm sure they were commended for being fierce and tactical, while I was busy worrying about coming across as a brat and not getting my fair share.”

Adams also spoke out eventually, which must really have disappointed Weinstein. “The truth is we hire people to negotiate on our behalf, men and women,” she said. “I knew I was being paid less and I still agreed to do it because the option comes down to do it or don’t do it. So you just have to decide if it’s worth it for you. It doesn’t mean I liked it.”

And there were worse things about Weinstein, it transpired, than an inability to convey his food from plate to mouth.

It’s sobering to find that even women with the commercial clout of Williams, Adams and Lawrence can be treated so shoddily. If this is happening to them, what about those lower down the ladder, or not yet on the ladder at all? No one’s asking for all the money in the world. Just an equal share, and the respect that comes with it.

All the Money in the World is on release.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards and is Film Critic in Residence at Falmouth University.