Jessica Chastain is an outspoken proponent for pay equity in Hollywood, an indefatigable voice fighting sexism in story lines and bottom lines. When Octavia Spencer told her women of color need to be included in the conversation, Chastain listened. While developing a holiday comedy for the two actresses to star in, Chastain brokered a “favored nations” deal, bundling their salary and led to both women getting paid five times their original asking salary.
“I have a story, and you guys are gonna be the first to hear it,” said Spencer to a panel on Women Breaking Barriers at the Sundance Film Festival. Fifteen months ago, Chastain approached her about doing a movie together. (The two have been good friends since they both starred in “The Help“).
“She wants to do comedies, and I wanna break out of period pieces,” she said as the crowd chuckled. “I love ’em! They’ve been kind to me! But I kinda wanna play someone who resembles me in some fashion.” When the subject of pay equity between men and women came up, Spencer agreed wholeheartedly:
“We were dropping F-bombs and getting it all out there. And then 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.’ 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.”
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Spencer paused as she choked up. “These are happy tears!” she assured the crowd.
“I love that woman, because she’s walking the walk and she’s actually talking the talk. She said, ‘Octavia, we’re gonna get you paid on this film. You and I are gonna be tied together. We’re gonna be favored nations, and we’re gonna make the same thing.’ Fast forward to last week, we’re making five times what we asked for.”
The crowd cheered before Spencer added: “Now, I wanna go to what the men are making!”
The deal resulted in a heated bidding war, with Universal beating out Fox and Paramount. The untitled holiday comedy will be produced by Chastain with her company Freckle Films. “We’re just sitting there sipping coffee, going, ‘Oh my god! Women are in demand,'” said Spencer.
Watch Spencer tell the story herself, beginning at 19:30 in the video below.