Jessica Chastain and Carey Mulligan Discuss Gender Equality In Hollywood

Jessica Chastain and Carey Mulligan are both movie stars at the top of their game. But that doesn’t mean they escaped dealings with compensation gaps and other gender inequities during their rise in Hollywood.

The two shared their stories at the recently wrapped Marie Claire 2022 Power Trip, the sixth iteration of the magazine’s invite-only, all-female networking summit. Sponsored by Chase and United Airlines, this year’s event whisked attendees from New York to LA for 36 hours of programming around the theme “Power Your Purpose.”

Chastain, who won an Academy Award this year for her lead role in The Eyes of Tammy Faye and next will be seen in Showtime’s Tammy Wynette-George Jones scripted series George & Tammy, looked back on her successful bid to help get equal pay for Octavia Spencer when the two were working together on the 2011 film The Help—for which Spencer went on to win an Oscar. She also talked about how her passion for amplifying women’s voices and stories led her to launch her production company Freckle Films in 2016.

“I [had] made an assumption that this woman who had been nominated for an Oscar multiple times, has an Oscar, has every award that you could have—I had assumed that the industry was paying her fairly for that. And I was wrong,” Chastain said.

“It was a very easy lesson. We really should talk about pay more often. It’s embarrassing sometimes to say, ‘Well what are you making?’ But the reality is, I made an assumption. She goes, ‘Well actually this is my reality.’ And for her to say that was so brave. And she’s the one who changed it because when you speak up for yourself in that way, it’ll be a ripple effect.”

Chastain also revealed the brazen sexism she encountered in the early days of her acting career.

“In the beginning… if I had an idea for a movie, I’d have to talk to the actor to get the actor to go to the director with the idea. So it felt like it was man-to-man,” she said. “And that’s how I would get my ideas implemented because I would notice the second I would go to the director it was always ‘No, no, no, no,’ but the second the actor would do it, the [director] would listen. So I was like, OK, I have to be really good friends with the male actor.”

During a separate Power Trip conversation with journalist Lisa Ling, Mulligan, who stars in the film She Said about the New York TimesNYT
reporters whose articles exposed sexual abuse allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, shared a familiar sentiment.

“There was a sense that you just had a smaller voice,” she says of her early days in film. “And for a long time I sort of thought, ‘Well, that’s cause I’ve just started. Maybe I’m just… Well I’m only 21.’ And then I was like, ‘Well, wait, I’m 30 now, I should ‘feel a bit better or I should feel that my voice matters a bit more.’ So I think for me it was more about what I held in the room as it related to my male counterparts.”

Both acknowledged the industry has taken big steps forward.

“It’s not just people talking more openly about pay disparity, but also, there are concrete things now. There are anti-harassment workshops, there are intimacy coordinators,” Mulligan added, noting she and her She Said co-star Zoe Kazan have been discussing “how insane it was” that they never had intimacy coordinators.

“That you were just put in a room with a man that you didn’t really know, maybe didn’t like, and just told to sort of get on with it. You know, it’s like we would never punch someone in a stunt without a stunt coordinator… And ultimately all of this comes down to women should be able to go to work and work and not have to deal with anything else.”

Jessica Alba, also a featured speaker at this year’s Power Trip, got real about lessons learned working in another male-dominated sector—Wall Street—after she took her entrepreneurial venture The Honest Company public in May 2021.

“I’m not going to lie and say that I’m not constantly dealing with male stuff. Mansplaining and all the things… I laugh about it now,” she said. “I definitely used to get my feelings hurt every time it happened. And then I was always kind of mad and then, through meditation, I have found more grace in their experience and knowing that they literally know that nothing else.

“They grew up with machismo or toxic male, you know, men. And that thing was their sort of raising,” Alba added. “And they are in relationships with women who are, for whatever reason, deciding not to be an equal earner in the household. And so they can’t help but behave the way that they do. So you don’t have to be so upset every time they do annoying things and you just allow for it to be what it is, but then also establish firm boundaries.”

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Stevie Flavio
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