Octavia Spencer has been increasingly vocal about the pay disparities in Hollywood for women—and for women of color in particular. On a “Women Breaking Barriers” panel at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, she revealed how Jessica Chastain stood with her to demand equal pay on an upcoming joint project, giving a master class in how allyship really works.
This year, IndieWire reports Spencer returned to Sundance for “Women Breaking Barriers: Where Are We Now?” with an update to her ongoing quest for equal pay, telling the audience, “I think my goal is to make sure that all women of color get equal pay, and all women get equal pay. ... The only way to do it is to have these conversations, to talk numbers with your co-stars. Jessica and I stood together, and that was interesting that she would take that position ... but we also need advocates and allies in negotiating.”
Recently, Spencer found a new ally in NBA star LeBron James, who is an executive producer on her upcoming Netflix series, Madam C.J. Walker. “I have to say, when I was negotiating my deal for ‘Madam C.J.,’ LeBron James had to intervene,” said Spencer, who will star as the beauty maven and America’s first black self-made millionaire. “So we need all our male counterparts to be in the fight with us.”
Spencer was joined onstage by actresses Kyra Sedgwick and Jenna Elfman, as well as producer Cassian Elwes, who has been doing his own work to further parity and inclusion, even in the seemingly progressive environment that is Sundance.
“I think men are on a steep learning curve in Hollywood,” he said. “I was in the middle of a negotiation, actually in the last two days, where the lawyer for the male star was saying, ‘Oh, he should get paid more than she should,’ and I was like, ‘Absolutely not, they’re going to be most favored nations in this deal, they’re gonna get the same deal basically.’ He’s like, ‘Well, he’s working more days than her,’ and I said, ‘Well, we’re holding her for just as much time, too.’ And he said, ‘Well, what do you gotta say for that?’ And I said, ‘I’m just going to say two words: Time’s Up.’”
Time’s Up, indeed. This year’s festival also hosted the launch of the “4% Challenge,” which confronts statistics by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative that revealed that only 4.3 percent of the 1,200 top-grossing films between 2007 and 2018 were directed by women.
“I want to be in it, I want my other male colleagues to be in it too, I want other women who have the power to be in it too,” Elwes said about the initiative, which has already garnered support from Tessa Thompson and director Angela Robinson. “Things are gonna change when people who have power actually use it.”
Spencer agreed, as her fight to ensure fair pay for all in Hollywood continues:
“I’m a pragmatist, and I think that what’s exciting is, for me right now, is I feel like there’s a paradigm shift and women are leading the charge in that,” she told the “Women Breaking Barriers” audience. “We just have to continue the momentum, and we have to remember that all of us, we need to work together, men and women. We need to advocate for each other. … I think we’ve made considerable strides in the conversation. Are we there yet? Uh, no. But are we where we were? Uh, no, and that’s what’s promising. I like the idea of that.”