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Pay Equity Is Hollywood's Other 2017 Summer Blockbuster

Alongside this summer's blockbuster movies and sleeper hits something else has been pulling focus in Hollywood: pay equity. And it's about time.

Of course, most of the conversation has centered around "Wonder Woman." Directed by Patty Jenkins and with a predominantly female cast led by Gal Gadot, the movie has eclipsed all others - even the sequel to "Guardians of the Galaxy" - as the highest-grossing film of the summer. Its box office take as of July 18 was $387 million.

This also means "Wonder Woman" has earned the most of any live action film directed by a woman. It's spawned countless think pieces by writers who are just realizing that women in Hollywood can be bankable. As a result, many feel "Wonder Woman" could be something of a watershed moment for women in general, and women directors in particular, in film and television.

Pay Inequity Is Alive and Well in Hollywood

It's certainly badly needed. For one thing, female directors are still vastly underrepresented. Out of the 250 highest-grossing U.S. movies of 2016, only seven percent were helmed by women according to research by San Diego State University's Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film. That also represented a drop of two percent from 2015. And, despite the success of "Wonder Woman" and Patty Jenkins, Hollywood still has a "dude problem" when it comes to women directors getting hired for high-profile films.

For another, the pay gap in Hollywood is still very real. Though a viral story about Gal Godot earning far less for "Wonder Woman" than Henry Cavill in his first appearance as Superman turned out to be false, pay inequity in Hollywood is a common truth for both women and other visible minorities.

Stars Fighting Back

This long-simmering issue has boiled over in the summer of 2017, with other high-profile stories also emerging. The one that has received the most attention so far is the abrupt departures of Grace Park and Daniel Dae Kim, both of Asian heritage, from the CBS show "Hawaii 5-O." Though the reason for their exit was not publicly disclosed, sources said it was because CBS refused to pay them as much as their white, male co-stars - who reportedly earned 10-15 percent more than Park and Kim.

Hollywood Has An Opportunity to Set An Example on Pay Equity

Of course, pay inequity is not a problem that just plagues Hollywood. Far from it, in fact. Nearly every industry, particularly those that are traditionally dominated by white men, has a pay gap. From the tech sector and medicine, to the law and financial services - women, and also visible minorities, are not paid the same as their white male colleagues.

As an industry, Hollywood is in a unique position to set an example on pay equity. It is one of the most visible and publicized sectors in the United States. Thanks to a media culture that scrutinizes and reports every scrap of news and gossip in Tinseltown, there is an opportunity here to send a strong message.

Many in Hollywood are providing this leadership. Some key takeaways for those in any industry on tactics for addressing pay inequality include:

Speaking Out. From Emma Stone saying male colleagues have accepted pay cuts so she could earn more, to Robin Wright, Gillian Anderson, Viola Davis, and others demanding pay equity, women in Hollywood are making noise about the issue. By shining a light on the problem they put it out in the open where it can receive scrutiny. In fact, Patricia Arquette's Oscar acceptance speech in which she called out Hollywood on pay equity was one of the factors that led to the drafting and passage of the California Fair Pay Act eight months later, which significantly strengthened California's existing equal pay laws.

Women can also speak up in the workplace and take their concerns to management. This does involve risks, but speaking with an experienced employment lawyer can help to create a plan for addressing inequality in the workplace.

Banding Together. Grace Park and Daniel Dae Kim left "Hawaii 5-O" together, which made a much bigger statement. While both left their jobs, this does not have to be the end result for everyone. Going in as a group, after developing a plan with legal counsel, to discuss issues with management can present a united front and go a long way to bringing about change.

Litigation. While it is somewhat rare to see pay equity lawsuits in Hollywood - mostly because of the unique position of actors and directors in the eyes of the law - litigation is a viable remedy for those working in other industries. Pay equity claims can be brought by individuals, or collectively in the form of a class action. The matter may not even have to go all the way to court - mediation and arbitration can often resolve these issues and result in settlements and a path forward for both employers and employees.

Beyond the Lazy, Hazy Days of Summer

Hopefully, Hollywood's focus on pay equity and the representation of women and visible minorities in film and television will continue past the summer of 2017. With "Wonder Woman" making such visible strides and increased diversity in representation at the 2017 Oscars, the momentum is there for real change to happen. Who knows, perhaps more 2018 blockbusters will be helmed by women and visible minorities, feature women and actors of color, and rake in record amounts of cash at the box office.

We will all be waiting for that, popcorn at the ready.

Photo credit: Flickr/Gage Skidmore

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