Why I Can’t Care If Superman Is Being Paid More than Wonder Woman

The non-controversy over the disparity between the salaries of the titular stars totally misses the point.
June 21, 2017, 1:01pm

Following the success of Wonder Woman—both commercially and critically it seems obvious that actress Gal Gadot is set for global stardom. The movie is being hailed as a feminist masterpiece, also becoming the highest grossing movie ever directed by a woman. But controversy was quick to erupt when it was reported that Gadot was making a mere $300,000 for her starring role as the titular (s)hero, which is a lot of money, sure—but peanuts compared to Henry Cavill (who blandly played Superman ) who made $14 million for his starring role in Man of Steel.

Needless to say, the Twitter was ablaze and everyone freaked out accordingly.

Vanity Fair debunked the viral story, explaining Cavill's salary included "bonuses for box-office performance" whereas Gadot's reported cheque was her base salary when signing for the movie in 2014. The article goes on to explain that the $300,000 salary isn't really that out of the ordinary for first time stars in superhero franchises, with Chris Evans receiving the same deal when he began playing Captain America.

Regardless of the facts, the internet was quick to have yet another discussion about how a rich white woman got paid less than another rich white man. In now deleted tweets, power users quickly shouted about the inequality, how the wage gap is real, etc. And while this feels like the umpteenth time women were supposed to be outraged by an actress getting ripped off by Hollywood—even if this is true—I find it hard to do anything more than shrug. What does a white woman getting paid $300,000 have to do with my feminism? How does this hurt me? It doesn't.

Don't get me wrong: of course women should be getting paid as much (if not more) than their male counterparts, that's a no brainer. But every time this particular conversation with regards to the wage gap and Hollywood comes up, white feminists use it as a way to yet again focus entirely on how white women are getting ripped off. Take Natalie Portman's February Marie Claire cover story for example. As arguably one of the most talented actresses in Hollywood right now she got paid three times less than Ashton Kutcher for the (bad) movie that was No Strings Attached. Rather than taking it as an opportunity to discuss how deep the wage-gap goes, she instead negated race completely.

In a 2015 Lenny Letter essay hailed as "brave" by many, Jennifer Lawrence explained her disappointment at finding out how much less she was getting paid than her male counterparts. I can't help but feel a little crazy when I read take after take urging Hollywood to do more for these actresses when, in the words of Chris Rock, "You hear Jennifer Lawrence complaining about getting paid less because she's a woman—if she was black, she'd really have something to complain about."

Not unlike what I've experienced in mainstream feminist wage-gap discourse, you'd be hard pressed to find any highly paid white actress discuss the pay gap beyond their own experiences and suffering. In Taraji P. Henson's memoir, she explains how for her Oscar nominated role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, she was paid less than two percent than Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Henson felt she had no choice because for black actresses, "we're consistently charged with diving for the crumbs of the scraps, lest we starve ." She knew had she pushed harder, she could have been easily replaced.

Henson isn't exaggerating either, according to UCLA's 2016 Diversity Report, latest figures show that 87 percent of lead actors in Hollywood films have been white. The only woman of colour to appear on the Forbes' 2015 highest paid actress list is Chinese actress Fan BingBing (who makes most of her money in her home country). The highest paid film star is currently Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, but it's a clear exception—not the rule. According to a report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, 22 percent of lead characters in movies released in 2015 starred women, of those who starred 76 percent were white. Despite all this, every year I'm supposed to be upset that Jennifer Lawrence got paid less than Bradley Cooper once—no thanks.

In her 2015 Emmy acceptance speech that still gives me chills, Viola Davis quoted Harriet Tubman:

"In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line, but I can't seem to get there no-how. I can't seem to get over that line."

She goes on to explain that the only thing separating women of colour from anyone else is opportunity. Maybe the reason why white actresses forget their non-white counterparts when having these discussions is because the lack of women of colour in lead roles is not important enough for them to notice. Either way, until white women start noticing or caring, I'll be hard pressed to give a shit about Wonder Woman not getting paid as much as Superman.

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