Netflix’s Grace and Frankie has been hailed, rightly, for its progressive premise. The program stars two women “of a certain age”—Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda—dealing with the revelation that their husbands (respectively played by Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen) are leaving them for each other. Since its release date on May 9, the clever comedy is gaining accolades for its performances and writing. But trouble is brewing behind the scenes.
Though Fonda and Tomlin receive top billing and serve as the show’s executive producers, it was recently revealed that they are being paid the same amount of money as the (male) supporting cast members Waterston and Sheen..
The actresses are not taking this information lying down, however, reportedly voicing their displeasure with the situation at a Netflix press day at the beginning of May, just before the show’s premiere, according to entertainment blog zap2it.
“[Tomlin] found out [Waterston and Sheen] are getting the same salary that we are,” Fonda said, according to the site. “That doesn’t make us happy.”
Tomlin chimed in, “No. The show is not Sol and Robert—it’s Grace and Frankie.”
The two funny ladies have a serious point. When female headliners can’t earn more than their male counterparts, especially if said peers are not the focus (or heart) of the show, something is definitely amiss. It’s no secret that Hollywood has a pay disparity problem, just like many other industries.
According to an unnamed Netflix official, the site isn’t to blame for the dilemma concerning Fonda and Tomlin’s Grace and Frankie salaries. Netflix’s original offerings function just like regular TV shows: outside production companies take care of actors’ pay, not the network (or in this case, Netflix). We tend to see Netflix as a revolutionary platform for media consumption, free of flaws—who else lets us storm through 13 hours of Orange Is the New Black in one sitting? But the problems at Grace and Frankie are a stark reminder that actors working with the site will experience the same struggles and trials as with network television.
When Forbes compiled its “Highest-Paid Actors and Actresses” list in 2013, they discovered that the men made 2.5 times more money than the women. The top 10 women collectively made $181 million that year, while the highest paid actor, Robert Downey Jr., made $75 million all by himself. Break it all down, and Hollywood’s highest paid actresses are making just 40 cents to every dollar that the actors pocketed on their way home from the studio.
As two veterans of the entertainment industry (the longtime friends met 35 years ago while starring in 9 to 5 together) both women have been dealing with this for way too long. If the show was actually called Sol and Robert, would there be any question that Waterston and Sheen would be making scores more cash than their supporting castmates?
Just like pay inequity elsewhere, women in Hollywood tend to get paid less because of historical norms. Actors and actresses are paid based on their past rates, and if an actress has always been receiving less money, it’s likely she’ll continue to do so—and an actor, based on the same standards, will make more.
In an interview with The Frame, Hunger Games producer and former Disney Studios executive Nina Jacobsen explained that it all boils down to affordability and precedent. If the studio is able to bring together an amazing ensemble cast, not everyone will be able to get their going rate. It’s a vicious cycle that becomes hard to break. And why would a studio want to break it? Less money spent on a project ultimately means more money earned.
This doesn’t mean Fonda and Tomlin have to step back and accept this disparity, of course. They have worked hard to get where they are in their careers—and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon; Grace and Frankie was just picked up for a second season. They’ve likely spent their entire careers aware that their male peers were making more than they were. Hopefully by speaking out now, these living legends may be able to save the next generation of actresses from a similar fate.