Michelle Williams’ infuriating pay gap shows why it’s unfair to ask women to think of the greater good

Michelle Williams was paid less than one-tenth of Mark Wahlberg’s payment for All the Money in the World reshoots.
Michelle Williams was paid less than one-tenth of Mark Wahlberg’s payment for All the Money in the World reshoots.
Image: REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
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Last Sunday (Jan. 7), actress Michelle Williams walked the Golden Globes red carpet alongside feminist activist Tarana Burke, the creator of the #MeToo Movement. “I am honored beyond measure to be standing next to this woman. I have tears in my eyes and smile on my face,” said Williams, who has been a vocal advocate in Hollywood’s recently ignited fight against sexual harassment.

The fight hit Williams close to home, as she starred in All the Money in the World, Ridley Scott’s Getty kidnapping drama. The film was hastily reshot in November 2017 amidst a wave of sexual harassment allegations against actor Kevin Spacey, who was also slated to star in the film. Spacey was replaced by Canadian actor Christopher Plummer, and All the Money in the World met its original theatre release date (Dec. 25).

Triumphant as this reshoot seems, recent news suggests it was actually clouded by an atrocious pay gap. As USA Today reports, while the reshoot cost $10 million, the undertaking was aided by the fact that “everyone did it for nothing,” as Scott told USA Today in December. Scott then clarified that while Plummer and the film’s crew were paid, he did not pay himself. While Williams did not ask to be paid, she received $80 per reshoot day, totaling $1,000 for her efforts. Yet Mark Wahlberg, who also starred in the film, was paid a cool $1.5 million for his reshoots—a wage of which Williams was never informed.

Speaking to USA Today before she found out about Wahlberg’s payment, Williams said that when Scott’s team called to request her time for the reshoot (without offering payment), ”I said I’d be wherever they needed me, whenever they needed me. And they could have my salary, they could have my holiday, whatever they wanted. Because I appreciated so much that they were making this massive effort.”

Meanwhile, Wahlberg, who was named Hollywood’s highest-paid actor in 2017, and his agents quietly negotiated for an extra $1.5 million. Complicating matters further, Wahlberg and Williams are represented by the same agency, William Morris Endeavor. “Actors pay a team of agents, managers and lawyers an average of 10% of their salaries to advocate for them,” reports USA Today. Representatives for Wahlberg, Williams, WME, Sony, Imperative Entertainment and Scott did not respond to the paper’s requests for comment.

That Wahlberg, a prominent male actor, was able to so significantly out-earn Williams without her knowing is hardly unexpected amidst Hollywood’s present battle against sexism, and the oft-cited reality that women in all industries are, on average, paid less than their male counterparts.

As countless studies have shown, negotiating for raises and promotions, often driven by over-confidence in one’s qualifications, is more prevalent among men than women across industries. Even when women do ask for pay raises and promotions in equal rates with men, they are significantly less likely to earn them. This reality is even more pronounced for women of color; research from the Center for Talent Innovation shows that thought black, Hispanic, and Asian women are more ambitious than white women about reaching high-level positions, and comprise 20% of the US population, women of color only make up less than 4% of C-suite positions.

Williams’ altruistic hesitance to not so much as ask for a small payment—which, given her time investment, would have been a reasonable request, and would still be a far cry from a million-dollar negotiation—also falls in line with gender stereotypes. Women are more likely than men to “take one for the team,” as a Yale meta-analysis of 22 psychological studies on altruism between genders shows. “We live in a society where women are expected to be altruistic, much more so than men,” said David Rand, associate professor of psychology and economics at Yale, and corresponding author of the study published Feb. 25 in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. “So women suffer more negative consequences for not being altruistic, which leads to them to develop intuitive responses that favor generosity.”

The implication of these truths for any employer who values equality is not rocket science: Women are societally conditioned to ask for less while doing more. Asking women, therefore, to “take one for the team,” or invest their time and money “for the cause,” while quietly compensating their male counterparts is not just ignorant, but also unjust, and charged by an implicit disregard of women’s relative value to men.

This dynamic has been visible in other aspects of the Me Too movement as well. Similarly to how Williams volunteered to pitch into the effort to reshoot All the Money in the World while Wahlberg negotiated a $1.5 million deal, at the Golden Globes, while Oprah, Natalie Portman, and Laura Dern used their time on stage to speak out against sexual harassment, while almost no men contributed the effort. “Facing a sea of women wearing black, not one of the dozen-plus men who received an award seemed compelled to note that anything about the night was different,” wrote Sophie Gilbert, for the Atlantic. “For the men of the Golden Globes—with the exception of the host, Seth Meyers, who delivered a series of jokes skewering Weinstein—it was business as usual.”

If offered significant compensation, or had she been made aware of Wahlberg’s negotiation, Williams may well have stood by her offer to do the reshoots for free. Given her feminist reputation and investment in the Times Up and #MeToo movements, it’s more than likely that she would have. But denying Williams, or any woman, all the contextual knowledge necessary to make a fully informed decision about her own financial compensation, so to capitalize on her inherent disposition toward giving rather than taking, is an explicit offense both to her work, and the nationwide fight for equal pay.