Is Jennifer Lawrence Well-Cast As The Victim?

Jennifer Lawrence with her “Hunger Games” co-stars Josh Hutcherson (left) and Liam Hemsworth.
Photo by Gage Skidmore.

There was something disconcerting to me about Jennifer Lawrence’s recent essay on apparent sexism in Hollywood pay scales, and it had nothing to do with the extent to which discrimination does or does not exist in the film industry.

Lawrence was among a group of actresses whose private photographs were stolen and leaked to the Internet last year. At the time, I felt highly protective of her. I wouldn’t look at her stolen pictures, even to confirm they were still online when I wrote about her victimization, nor was I willing to ask an employee to do so in the normal course of verifying the post’s factual content. As I said then, further spreading or viewing the images in the name of “journalism” was misguided at best. The images were stolen property, plain and simple.

But Lawrence may have missed the irony in basing her recent commentary on emails that were purloined from Sony’s film studio by minions of that great defender of women’s rights, Kim Jong Un.

Lawrence’s remarks originally appeared in Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter email newsletter and were subsequently reshared through Lawrence’s Facebook page. She wrote that “When the Sony (SNE) hack happened and [she] found out how much less” she was being compensated than her male co-stars, she was initially angry with herself for failing to negotiate more effectively, but subsequently began to question whether the disparity had an element of gender bias as well.

Considering Lawrence’s fame, it is not surprising that her comments triggered a large reaction. Bradley Cooper, one of the co-stars she named, has expressed support for her stance, as has “Harry Potter” actor Emma Watson and a variety of other Hollywood performers. Fans, too, have widely distributed the story through social media, with over 25,000 shares on Facebook (FB) alone. A little under a year after Sony was originally hacked, Lawrence has undoubtedly drawn a great deal of additional attention to at least one part of the stolen information.

Is there a big difference between the theft of private personal photos and sensitive business correspondence? Maybe to the subject of the photos in question, but not so much to me.

As I write this post, I am in the midst of negotiating office leases with several landlords who consider their deals with other tenants to be proprietary information. Suppose a sheaf of misappropriated documents showed up in my email inbox today, detailing exactly what deals the landlords had cut with my prospective neighbors. Should I look at this email and use the information in my negotiations? Or should I notify the landlords that their security had been breached and delete the errant email, unopened?

I am sure I would do the latter. If I didn’t, I would fully deserve to be infected with malware in the likely event that the hacker was actually more interested in my system than my landlord’s.

Moving past the point of whether Lawrence should have made such public use of the stolen Sony emails, is she correct in assuming that her compensation reflects mere gender discrimination and her own negotiating naivete? Though she did not name the movie outright, she mentioned Cooper, Christian Bale and Jeremy Renner, her co-stars in Sony’s film (via Columbia Pictures) “American Hustle.” Was her place on the compensation scale for “American Hustle” ultimately unfair, whether through her lack of business savvy, gendered double standards or some combination of the two?

I am no Hollywood insider, so I cannot answer this question authoritatively. But I will observe that all three of the male co-stars she named received higher billing than Lawrence and played characters who were more central to the film’s plot than hers. Bale played the film’s lead role, as was reflected inhis Academy Award nomination, just as Lawrence’s nomination for the Oscar in the Supporting Actress category reflected the scale of her part. Cooper also served as a co-executive producer for the film.

If one of my daughters had found herself in Lawrence’s position and asked me whether I thought the film’s pay scale reflected sexism, I would in turn have asked whether the credits already implied that her fellow actors received more money. I don’t think Lawrence needed North Korea’s dictator to tell her that they did.

The reality of compensation for labor is much more complex than it is often portrayed, whether on screen or in the rhetoric of social movements. Lawrence is a terrific actor. I want to see as much of her work as I can, including the final “Hunger Games” film, due out next month. In that franchise, Lawrence does indeed carry each movie, and I certainly would expect her to be the actor receiving the largest paycheck. (For what it’s worth, the films are distributed through Lions Gate Entertainment, not Sony.) As Lawrence gains acting credits and work experience, not to mention financial independence, she will be in a position to hold out for the deal she thinks she deserves more often than not.

That said, I would not expect female actors, in general, to make as much as male actors until several changes occur. First, as in the “Hunger Games” films, the female actors need to play the biggest roles in films in which they appear. Second, in order for that to happen, these roles will have to be written for women. Realistically, this will probably require more women writing, directing and producing films, positions in which they are still notoriously underrepresented. Third, these films will have to have as much perceived potential for profit as films centering on male leads. Increasingly, films’ profit potential is determined not just at the U.S. box office, but also in cinemas overseas and by the amounts secondary distributors, like Netflix or cable TV channels, are prepared to pay for them.

It is not at all clear that Lawrence is actually a victim of anything in this situation, though she might be. It might also be worth taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, including the appropriate use of stolen intellectual property, before we come to any conclusions. Lawrence has inarguably played the role of “victim” before. It is much less clear that she has sufficient cause now to reprise the part.

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About Larry M. Elkin 564 Articles

Affiliation: Palisades Hudson Financial Group

Larry M. Elkin, CPA, CFP®, has provided personal financial and tax counseling to a sophisticated client base since 1986. After six years with Arthur Andersen, where he was a senior manager for personal financial planning and family wealth planning, he founded his own firm in Hastings on Hudson, New York in 1992. That firm grew steadily and became the Palisades Hudson organization, which moved to Scarsdale, New York in 2002. The firm expanded to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2005, and to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2008.

Larry received his B.A. in journalism from the University of Montana in 1978, and his M.B.A. in accounting from New York University in 1986. Larry was a reporter and editor for The Associated Press from 1978 to 1986. He covered government, business and legal affairs for the wire service, with assignments in Helena, Montana; Albany, New York; Washington, D.C.; and New York City’s federal courts in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Larry established the organization’s investment advisory business, which now manages more than $800 million, in 1997. As president of Palisades Hudson, Larry maintains individual professional relationships with many of the firm’s clients, who reside in more than 25 states from Maine to California as well as in several foreign countries. He is the author of Financial Self-Defense for Unmarried Couples (Currency Doubleday, 1995), which was the first comprehensive financial planning guide for unmarried couples. He also is the editor and publisher of Sentinel, a quarterly newsletter on personal financial planning.

Larry has written many Sentinel articles, including several that anticipated future events. In “The Economic Case Against Tobacco Stocks” (February 1995), he forecast that litigation losses would eventually undermine cigarette manufacturers’ financial position. He concluded in “Is This the Beginning Of The End?” (May 1998) that there was a better-than-even chance that estate taxes would be repealed by 2010, three years before Congress enacted legislation to repeal the tax in 2010. In “IRS Takes A Shot At Split-Dollar Life” (June 1996), Larry predicted that the IRS would be able to treat split dollar arrangements as below-market loans, which came to pass with new rules issued by the Service in 2001 and 2002.

More recently, Larry has addressed the causes and consequences of the “Panic of 2008″ in his Sentinel articles. In “Have We Learned Our Lending Lesson At Last” (October 2007) and “Mortgage Lending Lessons Remain Unlearned” (October 2008), Larry questioned whether or not America has learned any lessons from the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. In addition, he offered some practical changes that should have been made to amend the situation. In “Take Advantage Of The Panic Of 2008” (January 2009), Larry offered ways to capitalize on the wealth of opportunity that the panic presented.

Larry served as president of the Estate Planning Council of New York City, Inc., in 2005-2006. In 2009 the Council presented Larry with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award, citing his service to the organization and “his tireless efforts in promoting our industry by word and by personal example as a consummate estate planning professional.” He is regularly interviewed by national and regional publications, and has made nearly 100 radio and television appearances.

Visit: Palisades Hudson

1 Comment on Is Jennifer Lawrence Well-Cast As The Victim?

  1. She was paid atleast 3 to 4 million dollars less than jeremy renner. Whole of AH marketing revolved around her oscar n catching fire success. Its an absolute loot that they paid her less than Renner n even cooper ,becoz he worked more as a producer not as actor ,for which he was paid more than her. I think ur a very good person n i respect u 4 not looking at private info.

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