The outrage of the day (one of the outrages anyway, this may be a multi-outrage day) is that actress Michelle Williams got paid almost nothing to do reshoots for "All The Money In The World," while Mark Wahlberg made over a million dollars. The peanut gallery has cited this travesty as yet more proof that we live in a patriarchal dystopia.
Of course, the whole controversy is quite silly. Williams got paid less for two reasons: she agreed to be paid less, and she is worth less. As a human being, she is equal in dignity and worth to any man. But as a film star, her value comes down to dollars and cents. Mark Wahlberg is, believe it or not, the highest paid actor in Hollywood because, believe it or not, his movies are almost always blockbusters. His last five films grossed well over a billion dollars at the box office. In two years. Michelle Williams' movies have... not been that successful, to put it mildly.
People will go to see a movie just because Mark Wahlberg is in it. Almost no one will be motivated to see a movie because Michelle Williams is in it. Nobody is saying to their friend on a Friday night, "Hey, do you want to go check out that Michelle Williams flick?" If they did, their friend would be likely to respond, "Who is Michelle Williams?"
I think she's a talented actress, but this is a business. If you make a billion dollars for your employer, you're going to get paid like it. If you don't, you won't. And that's all right. Let us not cry for Michelle Williams. I'm sure she's doing just fine, even if her mansion is quite a bit smaller than Mark Wahlberg's and her butler only works part time. Sometimes, in life, we must endure such deprivations.
But the reason this story got any attention at all is that it's part of the larger narrative that women in Hollywood are innocent (albeit wealthy and glamorous) victims of a sexist conspiracy. Hollywood actresses are martyrs and heroes, the unassailable Good Guys to the all-male Bad Guys, we're told. This theme was hammered home at the Golden Globes on Sunday, where women "took center stage" in an event that was a "celebration of women." One woman after another stood in front of cameras and boldly condemned evil men who prey upon the innocent, and we were required to cheer along, and not for a moment to question whether any of them are at all culpable in Hollywood's abuse epidemic.
Personally, I agree that women should be celebrated. But I find it hard to celebrate these particular women. It seems that many of these particular women were more than willing to overlook the rampant sexual abuse happening all around them if it meant they could star in a Weinstein production or work with any of the other prominent abusers in their industry. Now they have rediscovered their feminist convictions only because those convictions are suddenly helpful to their careers. Their careers were their primary concern when they aided and abetted the sex abusers, and begged to be in films directed and financed by them, and their careers are their primary concern today. I see very few true "heroes" in the female film star camp. There are probably as many heroes in their ranks as there are among the men. That is to say, hardly any.
After all, if the men must be called to the carpet and castigated for their silence (deservedly so), what should we say about someone like Meryl Streep, who took millions of dollars to star in Weinstein films? Or Julia Roberts who did the same? Or Jennifer Lawrence? Or Natalie Portman? Or Jessica Alba? Or Melissa McCarthy? Or Naomi Watts? Or Rachel McAdams? Or Laura Dern? Or Oprah? Or Rooney Mara? Or Uma Thurman? Or Nicole Kidman? I could go on for pages. It's safe to say that the vast majority of the most famous actresses in Hollywood — and many that took the stage on Sunday night — have eagerly worked with Weinstein in the past. And that's only Weinstein. I haven't even mentioned the "empowered feminists" who starred in Woody Allen movies (Cate Blanchett, etc.) or Roman Polanski projects (Kate Winslet, Michelle Williams, etc.) or alongside Kevin Spacey (Jennifer Aniston, etc.) or worked with any number of well-known abusers.
Are we to assume that all of these women had no knowledge of the alleged crimes committed by these men? Was it an "open secret" known by everyone except almost every prominent woman in the industry? Was Matt Damon expected to know about Weinstein's sex abuse habit but Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence could not possibly have known? Lawrence claims she had no knowledge that Weinstein was a predator but she did know he was a "dog" and a "brute." Would Ben Affleck get away with an excuse like that?
Of course we must understand that a woman who is abused may be afraid to speak out against her abuser. But many of these women were not abused, according to their own testimony. And not all abuse is the same. Certainly a woman who is raped cannot be judged for her silence after the fact. But a woman who has an uncomfortable conversation? Or is propositioned in some way? If she remains silent, and even proceeds to work with the man in question, are we supposed to believe that she was incapacitated by fear? Can "fear" explain a person's motivation to accept heaps of money to star in movies produced by a sex predator? Is that fear or is it personal ambition and moral cowardice?
If the women of Hollywood were the kind of kick-ass feminists they now pretend to be, Weinstein and his ilk would have been forced out of the business long ago. Not only because his behavior would have been exposed, but because it would have been impossible for him to find women willing to star in his films. Yet, right up until the very last moment, there were women lining up to be in a Weinstein production. Are they not responsible for these decisions? Are we really supposed to take their "girl power" protestations seriously now?
There are plenty of women who were chewed up and spit out by Hollywood when they refused to sacrifice their character and integrity for the sake of fame and fortune. Rose McGowan comes to mind. I'm sure there are plenty of others, but we don't know their names because they are living and working in relative obscurity, far away from the spotlight. These women are the true victims of this tale and the true heroes. Celebrate them, sure.
But the women prancing across the red carpet in black dresses, shouting slogans into the camera and posing as dragonslayers, even though they already sold their integrity and their souls to the dragon in order to achieve the fame they currently enjoy — those women deserve no celebration. If "Time is up" for the men, it ought to be up for them, too.