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The Sony Hack, Amy Pascal, and Gender and Power in Hollywood

The Sony Hack, Amy Pascal, and Gender and Power in Hollywood

It hasn’t been a good couple of weeks for Amy Pascal and the folks at Sony. I would even venture to say that these last couple of weeks have been the shittiest of Ms. Pascal’s 30-year career in the business. I’m not one to pile on a woman when she’s down — especially one of the few women at the very top of Hollywood — but boy, some of the stuff I’ve been reading is seriously disturbing.

I know that Ms. Pascal has already apologized profusely for her racist emails about President Obama, saying they don’t reflect who she is. But they are an unmistakable example of the white privilege that suffuses the industry and the country. All of us who are white and have that privilege need to understand the ramifications of saying those things (even in private correspondence) while in a position of power. You write it down in an email, and the next time it comes out of your mouth. No one is immune. 

But when you are a dealmaker, a greenlighter, the very arbiter of what our culture is and who becomes our role models, you have to be better. You just do.

And while Amy Pascal has caused so much of her own woes, it is hard not to feel sorry for her with some of the other crap that keeps coming out. The stuff about how her husband (a former NY Times writer who covered the film business) told her to fire her PR guy because she wasn’t invited to a Hollywood Reporter panel. And also the fact that her husband was going to vet a Maureen Dowd column that she participated in. (Dowd has refuted this.) I just can’t help but think that these would be non-stories if the genders were reversed.

This whole saga  — and it feels like this is still just the beginning — has unpeeled the layers of PR and doublespeak to expose the nastiness at the heart of the film industry that we could sense but never put our fingers on before. That nastiness is the sexism that pervades the business, from the lack of women on screen to the lack of opportunities for women behind the screen, which starts at the very top and trickles down. 

In the last week, for example, we have seen information about the differing pay scales for women and men at Sony. The hack revealed that the male President of Production at Columbia Pictures, Michael De Luca, makes almost a million dollars (including bonuses) more than his counterpart, Hannah Minghella, who shares the same title and position. The numbers also show that 16 out of the 17 top-paid people in the company are men. This is not just a wage gap. This is a power gap.

We also got to see a little bit about how back ends are negotiated (back ends are the profits that people get once a movie goes into the black). On the film American Hustle, the male director (David O’Russell) and stars (Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and Christian Bale) were all given higher back-end deals than the women (Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams). How a guy like Jeremy Renner is able to get a better deal than Jennifer Lawrence is an example to me of the problems in the business.

But for me, the biggest lesson here is how all of us, not only people in power, need to match our words with our actions. Bottom line, always try and be the person you believe yourself to be capable of.

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