Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and the Gender Pay Discrimination Problem

June 4th 2015

Laura Donovan

UPDATE 6/8/2015 - Late last week, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin released a joint statement to TheWrap saying, "We made a joke in an interview about our salaries which was taken out of context​. This just reminds us to be mindful of how things come across in interviews​. We appreciate everyone’s support and the attention to this issue, but the structure of ‘Grace and Frankie’ is fair, and we couldn’t be happier to work with Skydance, Netflix and the great cast of this show.”​

Have you kept up with Netflix's new show "Grace and Frankie" starring Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda? I've been obsessed since its May release, so I was thrilled to hear last week that it's been renewed for a second season. This is wonderful and much-deserved for Tomlin and Fonda, who both star in the clever, comedy series.

But the actresses are dealing with some not-so-funny pay gap issues on set, and they're not pleased about the situation.

Grace and Frankie

In the program, uptight Grace (Fonda) and free-spirited Frankie (Tomlin) develop a complicated, unexpected, and hilarious friendship when their husbands confess they've been having an affair for two decades and are planning to get married. Sol (Sam Waterston) and Robert (Martin Sheen) have significant supporting roles, but the story is clearly centered on Grace and Frankie's relationship, so headliners Fonda and Tomlin were very upset to learn that their male colleagues received the same compensation as they did for the series. Fonda and Tomlin also serve as executive producers on "Grace and Frankie" while Waterston and Sheen are solely lending their acting chops to the program.

"[Tomlin] found out [Waterston and Sheen] are getting the same salary that we are," Fonda told reporters at a recent Netflix press day gathering. "That doesn't make us happy." 

Tomlin chimed in, "No. The show is not 'Sol and Robert' -- it's 'Grace and Frankie.'" 

Fonda and Tomlin famously worked together in the movie "Nine to Five," which highlights gender discrimination in the professional world. Having been in the entertainment industry for decades, Tomlin and Fonda have observed some positive changes overtime, but feel there's still room for improvement.

"Even in little increments [things for women in film and TV have] changed," Tomlin said. "[But] there's still a lot to do and care about."

According to Quartz, an unnamed Netflix official said the streaming service doesn't compensate talent. Outside production companies pay talent, so Skydance Productions, the production company behind "Grace and Frankie," is likely responsible for the actors' pay.

Many actresses know the pay gap problem all too well

During her Oscar acceptance speech earlier this year, Patricia Arquette powerfully highlighted the gender pay gap issue:

Six months ago, the highly-publicized Sony email hack revealed a handful of A-list actresses earned less than their male counterparts in big blockbuster productions. One of the exchanges revealed that Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and Christian Bale all received almost 10 percent of back-end profits in the Oscar-nominated "American Hustle" while female co-stars Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams received just 7 percent. Lawrence was initially only going to get 5 percent of back-end profits. 

Following the Sony scandal, Academy Award winner Charlize Theron successfully negotiated a higher pay for "The Huntsman" when she learned co-star Chris Hemsworth was making more money than she was on the project.

How the pay gap affects non-celebrity women

The Sony controversy also revealed an internal problem: only one of the 17 employees with a $1 million or more salary was a woman. Celebrities and entertainment industry workers, of course, aren't alone in experiencing gender pay discrimination. The average woman earns 78 cents for every man's dollar, or $435,049 over the course of 40 years. A few months ago, the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) published a report that found the gender pay disparity won't go away until 2058, which is more than 40 years from now.

The IWPR came to this conclusion after studying the progress of gender pay equality since the 1960s. In 1980, women earned 60 cents for every dollar taken home by men, so while the gender pay gap has shrunk, it has a way's to go before disappearing. The research also showed that some states are progressing faster than others. The researchers concluded California is on its way to closing the pay gap by 2042, but Wyoming women will have to wait until 2159 to see the gap close. As I previously put it in another article, "So, while the female grandchildren of current Millennials will have a shot at equality in places like California and Florida, Wyoming won't have the same kind of results for several generations."

Pay gap

To help eliminate the gender pay gap before 2058, voters can cast ballots for candidates who support equal pay. You can register to vote at OurTime.org.