Octavia Spencer & Jessica Chastain Schooled Hollywood & Got Paid In The Process

Photo: Kevork Djansezian/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images.
Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain are both receiving roomy salaries for their upcoming holiday buddy comedy, and Spencer says Chastain is part of the reason why. It was reported in early January that Spencer and Chastain would star in a seasonal comedy about two women struggling to get home for the holidays. Peter Chiarelli, the screenwriter behind The Proposal, will write, and Chastain is also a co-producer on the movie.
The Hollywood Reporter reports that at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's "Women Breaking Barriers" panel at Sundance, Spencer recalled how Chastain and Spencer negotiated their salaries for the movie.
"I said, ‘But here’s the thing, women of color on that spectrum, we make far less than white women. So, if we’re gonna have that conversation about pay equity, we gotta bring the women of color to the table,'" Spencer recounted. "And I told her my story, and we talked numbers, and she was quiet, and she said she had no idea that that’s what it was like for women of color."
Both Spencer and Chastain have been nominated for multiple Oscars — Spencer won in 2012 for The Help, but Chastain has yet to win the award. By right, they should be worth the same amount, especially in a movie where they both bill as stars. (It's a buddy comedy!) The good news is, they will have the same salary for the movie.
Spencer explained that Chastain told her, "‘Octavia, we’re gonna get you paid on this film." They are now making five times the original amount they asked for, according to Spencer.
At yet another panel at Sundance, Jada Pinkett Smith relaid the same story, adding a call to action: "Jessica stood up for Octavia and I want you to know because they stood together, they got three times what they were asking for as a unit," she said, as per The Tampa Bay Times.
She added, "It's nice to go out and march, we can do that. It's nice to wear black at the Golden Globes. But what are we doing behind closed doors? And I got to give our sister Jessica Chastain her props."
Spencer's tale is a parable of intersectionality in action: Chastain, a very visible and very vocal white woman, used her privilege to promote a woman of color. The two friends and co-stars were also transparent about their salaries, an important detail in salary negotiation. If all women — and, you know, men! — shared their salaries, we could correct years of inequity. Also, as per Spencer, this happened months before the Time's Up initiative was revealed. Maybe, with Time's Up at the forefront, these types of occurrences can happen more frequently. Or, better yet, all the time.
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