Hollywood is quintessential America. It is glamorized, idealized and has a ridiculous amount of inequality that is only just beginning to come to light.
There’s the gender gap, where only 30 percent of speaking characters were women in the top 700 top-grossing films between 2007 and 2014. No one can put it better than Cate Blanchett, who said industry people are, “still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences.”
Then there’s age discrimination. In 2014 the top 100 grossing films had ZERO female actors in a lead or co lead role who were over 45 years old. Even when middle-aged characters are present, 80 percent of them are male. And don’t forget the racial inequality, as displayed by this year’s all-white Oscar nominees. Even when a character is written as a minority, they are often played by white actors.
This is precisely why Hollywood is the most American industry; it has racial, gender and age-inequality. What more could a working actor want?
But there’s one more that gets forgotten. Wage inequality. The Hollywood we see on TV is full of A-list actors in custom made Armani tuxedos and glittering ball gowns. But these people are the exception, not the norm.
The average actor makes roughly 20 dollars an hour. This doesn’t sound too bad, until you realize that unemployment among actors hovers between 80 and 90 percent. Sure that commercial gig may pay decently, but that job will last you one, maybe two days. Then it’s back to the perpetual job hunt.
The fact is, an actor is lucky if they’re paid at all. This comes from a huge saturation of the workplace, and the fact that most actors actually enjoy what they are doing. Still, no one would ask a lawyer to do their job without pay, or a composer to give their creative work away, so why are actors punished for enjoying their chosen profession?
SAG-AFTRA, the actor’s union, took a small step towards fixing this problem in 2015, when they raised the amount low-budget films must pay their actors. This 25 percent raise was the first wage increase in ten years.
The biggest obstacle to fixing Hollywood inequality is that actors will never agree to stop working for free. The union can’t stop this either because there are more actors who are not a part of SAG than there are union members. There are too many actors out there, and most of them love their craft.
If you refuse to work on a project for free, no matter how justified your reasoning, there will always be someone who can replace you in a heartbeat.
As long as this is the case there is very little that can be done to fix the problem of extreme wage deflation.