I grew up without a television and wasn’t really around television very much until college. The X-Files was the first television programme that I really watched, and that was because a friend bought the VHS tapes as soon as they came out and would have marathons. I have many fond memories of sitting on her couch eating popcorn and watching Mulder and Scully try to get to the bottom of things (hilariously, I had a history teacher in college named…Dana Scully). The show was delicious and creepy and wonderful, but there was something else remarkable about it: It showed a man and woman working side by side as partners in an era when this still wasn’t totally common. They occupied equal billing, were weighted and treated equally, and were, for me, a huge model of what the world should be like — could be like, if we valued women.
That’s why I was so disappointed, though not wholly surprised, to learn earlier this year that Anderson was initially paid less than Duchovny in addition to being provided with direction designed to make her subordinate, such as never walking in front of Mulder on screen, let alone beside him. She fought it, hard, and eventually obtained pay parity, but when Fox approached her about a reboot, they tried to pull exactly the same thing. Why the network thought it could get away with it really boggles the mind, because Anderson is a cult icon and heavy hitter, so it’s not like she’s desperate for roles, and she’s also a famously very outspoken and frank woman who would undoubtedly compare salaries and raise a stink if they were inequal, as well she should.
Moreover, this is a period when a huge number of women in Hollywood have started talking about pay. The Sony hack really precipitated that by showing internals on pay and highlighting the fact that some women were really being jerked around, and that, additionally, executives privately thought they were being ridiculous when they asked for better pay. Meanwhile, women are negotiating for wage parity (and better pay per film when they’re the stars), because, among other things, female-driven films are performing outstandingly well at the box office, and women are the majority of filmgoers. Like, aside from the obvious, there’s a good reason to pay women in Hollywood well, whether in film or in television.
The decision to insult Anderson by offering her less than her costar for the miniseries revival of The X-Files showed how dinosaurs run the boardrooms at major networks. They genuinely thought they could get away with just not paying her what she deserved and seemed shocked when she fought it, while the public was outraged. This, too, is a shift — if she’d spoken up in the 1990s she would have been labeled difficult and treated like a pain in the arse for saying something and speaking an uncomfortable truth. Now, people across the industry as well as in public supported her, indicating that there’s a clear public demand for better pay in Hollywood.
This isn’t the only high-profile television pay dispute that’s taken place in the last few years — especially in the case of longrunning shows, as stars renegotiate their contracts and note that since their projects have taken over their lives for a decade or more, they want better pay. And in some cases, that includes a fight for pay equality, whether it’s a raise to be on par with male stars or an across the board raise (that still ends in equal pay). While I find the per-episode pay for many stars completely boggling and excessive, that doesn’t change the fact that it should be equal. Costars should be making the same amount of money. Other cast members should also be making equal amounts depending on their status as regulars, guest stars, and what have you. Anything else is profoundly unjust, because let’s not forget: These people are all doing the same work, showing up early, working late, throwing themselves into labour that can be incredibly draining, shifting their entire lives around the shows or films they’re working on.
It echoes larger conversations about pay inequality, and there’s something important that needs to happen in these conversations: It’s not enough for the people on the short end of the stick in these discussion to speak up. The people with the upper hand — and more negotiating power — need to work in solidarity with their partners. If a man is making more than a female costar, he needs to speak up. Maybe that means joining her in lobbying for pay equality. Maybe that means sacrificing for parity. Maybe that means joining her as she speaks out in public spaces about her salary dispute. Men cannot remain silent while women in Hollywood are struggling, because otherwise, producers will exploit that — here go those silly starlets again, demanding attention for their little womanly needs, unlike the well-behaved men.
Raising a ruckus can be hard and exhausting work. It’s even more difficult without backup. Many men in Hollywood speak very highly of the women they work with — at last in public — so they should put it on the line for them. Being outspoken in Hollywood is still much safer for men than women, and that means they have an obligation to take an active role in improving working conditions for women.
Image: Gillian Anderson & David Duchovny, Gage Skidmore, Flickr