Yesterday, Inc ran an article titled "Why Are CEOs Criticized for Income Inequality While Hollywood Actors Seem to Get a Pass?" It's an excellent question, asked by and answered by Quora users. The answer focused on two things: Big named stars don't handle compensation for other people and Hollywood has huge pay inequity problems that stars are working to fix.

Both of these are true. But, there are few things that should be considered when making these arguments that big stars should have no culpability for bad pay in Hollywood, and I think it's time to be addressed.

Stars Aren't Like CEOs: They Have More Power

Jennifer Lawrence wrote a famous letter about gender pay inequalities in Hollywood but what she didn't address was as the other pay inequalities. You know, how many interns are unpaid, and costume designers are making $25,000 a year, and lots of jobs are per diem which mean no benefits, and no guarantees of jobs tomorrow.

What if Ms. Lawrence and Emma Stone and Bradley Cooper (all cited by Quora writer Rebecca Metz, TV/Film/Theater/Voice/Improv Actor) devoted part of their salary negotiations to ensuring that the little people on the set were paid reasonable salaries? If Lawrence said, "I won't do this Hunger Games sequel unless we raise the salaries of everyone who works on the picture" her voice would have been heard.

Stars are Highly Paid and Highly Subsidized

I have no problem with people earning a lot of money. I hope to do so one day myself. But their big paychecks come at the expense of taxpayers. While many big businesses also receive tax benefits, it is disingenuous for stars to complain about business and not recognize their own role in the problem.

Last week's Freakonomics podcast addressed this issue while talking specifically about the Visual Effects Industry--without which, many Hollywood movies would be disasters. Visual Effects Artist Daniel Lay explained it like this:

Sony started opening up facilities in New Mexico and there was a lot of people moving there and, from what I understood, they said, "Well, it's because of the tax incentives." And I came back to that same manager and I'm like, "What is it? Are taxes so much lower in New Mexico that California can't compete?" And it was explained to me by this manager that, "Well, the reason why is that they're not essentially taxes that we're talking about here, we're actually talking about government subsidies, where the government of New Mexico was essentially paying for 25 percent of the visual-effects production costs to the producers of the film."

Stars are making money off the backs of the taxpayers of New Mexico or any other city or state that offers big subsidies to the movie industry. People who are profiting off government handouts should be subject to extreme scrutiny. CEOS and Stars, alike.

Stars Whine About Pay Equity

Hollywood stars love to be political. It's their right to do so. But, when they do, they shouldn't be surprised when people judge them by their actions. When the work in an industry with such lopsided pay, and take home far more than the average CEO. How much more? Well, the average CEO earns around $150,000 per year. People like to cite Fortune 500 CEO salaries, but that's not the average CEO.

So, you have someone like Matt Damon (who earned $55 million in 2016), criticizing Wall Street. Damon earned substantially more for The Martian than his female costar, Jessica Chastain. The difference is Wall Street firms are subject to all sorts of regulations to ensure that people who do similar jobs are paid the same, regardless of race or gender. Damon did have a lot more screen time than Chastain, but at $1.75 million compared to $15-20 million, it wouldn't pass muster if it were a Wall Street firm.

CEOs Have Long-Term Concerns

A CEO doesn't turn over his entire staff with each project. CEOs have to have a consistent product that brings in consistent money in order to not only cover payroll but meet or exceed investor expectations. A star can walk away after one movie and work with an entirely new group for the next. That gives a completely different mindset. 

Additionally, in order to be a CEO, you either have to start your own business or work your tail end off to be promoted to the position. It's not that Hollywood work isn't hard work, but it's a different perspective when you're earning millions of dollars before you're old enough to legally drink. 

So, while Hollywood Stars get a pass where CEOs don't, they shouldn't. They should use their power and influence to bring better salaries to everyone in the industry, not just themselves

Published on: Feb 28, 2017