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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.

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.

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Othering, micro-aggressions and subtle prejudice: growing up black and British

Afua Hirsch’s memoir Brit(ish) adds a new chapter to the body of work on race in the UK

As every economic or political immigrant knows, the real enigma of arrival is to look in two directions. Immigrants gaze back at the homelands and family they have left behind; and they look anxiously at the customs, language and laws of the country they have adopted. Making sense of both can take a lifetime.

Afua Hirsch, the author of Brit(ish), who has worked at Sky News and the Guardian, was born in Norway to a British father and Ghanaian mother and grew up in prosperous Wimbledon, south-west London. She studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford before graduating in law. Her experience of violent racism seems to be limited, but she writes of the cumulative toll of regular infractions while studying and working as a lawyer and journalist, described as acts of “othering”, “micro-aggressions” and “subtle prejudice”.

Of visiting a shop near her home, she writes: “The harshest lessons came in my late teens, visiting my best friend at work at a boutique in Wimbledon Village. The manager told her I could not come in. ‘It’s off-putting to the other customers,’ she said, ‘and the black girls are thieves. Tell her she’s not welcome.’” On another occasion, a man on the Underground threatened to beat Hirsch with his belt because “you people are out of control”. The incidents coincided with a growing curiosity about her mother’s homeland, which is common to many second-generation children. Hirsch first visited Accra with her mother in 1995: “I don’t think I had realised that there was a world in which black people could be in charge.” In the early 2000s, she worked for a development organisation and was based in Senegal for two years. A decade later, as recession and austerity gripped Europe, she returned to Accra as the Guardian’s West Africa correspondent.

Half a century ago, Hirsch would have been described as a “returnee”; in 2012, the changing nature of global wealth and identity saw the brief rise of a more assertive term, “Afropolitan”.

But Ghana failed to provide Hirsch with an enduring sense of arrival. “For someone like me, Britishness contains the threat of exclusion,” she writes. “An exclusion only made more sinister by discovering – after so many years of searching – that there is nowhere else to go.” Like Filipinos returning home after decades in the Arabian Gulf, Hirsch felt like a privileged outsider who ostensibly viewed a poor country from the safety of a guarded community.

This section of Brit(ish) provides some of the memoir’s most valuable insights. It also could have benefited from more detail; I would have liked to have learned if, like expat Indians who have returned to Mumbai or Bangalore over the last 20 years, Hirsch considered immersing herself in Ghana’s roaring economy by opening a business. She is currently collaborating on a clothing line inspired by Ghanaian culture.

In the end, personal safety prompted an abrupt withdrawal from Accra. Hirsch and her partner returned to the UK after they were attacked on a beach on the outskirts of the Ghanaian capital. In the harrowing incident, her earrings were ripped from her earlobes and her ring was stolen. The attack also marked an introduction to an under-resourced and inept justice system. On the day of the first court appearance of the assailants, Hirsch’s partner was asked to pick them up and drive them to the hearing.

The most interesting segments of the book aren’t those that dwell on racial theory; Hirsch has yet to coalesce her views on her British and Ghanaian heritage into a unified argument. That usually takes most writers a lifetime. Brit(ish) has more in common with memoirs by other immigrants and their children whose search for education and prosperity transitions to a longer quest for identity. ER Braithwaite, the author of To Sir, With Love, wrote about what it felt like to be a second-class citizen in the UK, despite decades of service to the education sector:

In spite of my years of residence in Britain, any service I might render the community in times of war or peace, any contribution I might make or wish to make, or any feeling of identity I might entertain towards Britain and the British, I – like all other coloured persons in Britain – am considered an “immigrant”.

Hirsch’s book is also less sure about how other immigrant groups view their British experience. For instance, she cites the return of present-day South Asians to the subcontinent as being partly due to racism, but a departing diaspora, resettling in India and Pakistan for reasons such as accumulated wealth or community, has been a fixture of British life since the 1950s. A more interesting detour would have seen an exploration of British Muslims, often wrongly charged with disloyalty to the UK by commentators such as Trevor Phillips, who selectively pick out the most extreme views on integration and religion.

Instead, the memoir offers clearer ideas on how the UK could do more to acknowledge its role in the slave trade and colonialism. In the book’s most searing sections, Hirsch rightly suggests there is more to be achieved in correcting Britain’s memorials to empire – those permanent exhibitions in museums, statues and plaques that fail to acknowledge the sins of colonialism.

For instance, for 300 years, every British monarch gave direct or indirect support to the transatlantic slave trade until it was abolished in 1833. Of the 12 million slaves abducted from Africa, 40 per cent were transported on British ships. We are told slavery was outlawed on humanitarian grounds in a campaign fought by abolitionists. In reality, an overproduction of sugar crops led to reduced profits.

In Capitalism and Slavery, published in 1944, Eric Williams, the first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, described the idea that slavery was abolished because of an appeal to humanitarian principles as “one of the greatest propaganda movements of all time”.

Hirsch argues these old ideas continue to hinder diversity. In 2013, only 23 students of black British African heritage were given paces to study at Oxford University. In 2016, one third of all people stopped by the police in England and Wales under “stop and search” laws were from ethnic minority backgrounds. Hirsch also highlights the worrying uptick in violence after the Brexit vote in June 2016. In the four months after the referendum, there was a 41 per cent increase in racially and religiously motivated crimes.

British public life is full of the talented children of Ghanaians who have written about racism and the push for acceptance, including rappers such as Tinchy Stryder, Dizzee Rascal and Sway. Just as Peter Fryer’s groundbreaking book, Staying Power: the History of Black People in Britain, did in 1984, Afua Hirsch’s memoir adds a new chapter to the body of work on race in the UK. As she writes, an island nation that has benefited from centuries of immigration should reframe the question it asks some of its citizens: “I can’t be British, can I, if British people keep asking me where I’m from?” 

Burhan Wazir is an editor at WikiTribune and former head of opinion at Al Jazeera. Afua Hirsch will appear at Cambridge Literary Festival, in association with the New Statesman, on Sunday 15th April.

Brit(ish): on Race, Identity and Belonging
Afua Hirsch
Jonathan Cape, 384pp, £16.99

This article first appeared in the 15 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The polite extremist