As we enter into awards season, we’re entering into another few months of Oscar contenders being asked the same questions over and over until words lose all meaning. In the latest Hollywood Reporter roundtable, the group of actresses (Amy Adams, Annette Bening, Naomie Harris, Natalie Portman, Taraji P. Henson, Emma Stone, and Isabelle Huppert) answered the usual questions: Is Hollywood still a hard industry for women? For Women over 30? Over 40? For African-American women? What kind of roles are you offered? How do you feel about getting paid a fraction of your male costars’ salary?
Let’s be clear: these weren’t questions being asked regularly, of major or even minor actresses a few years ago. So there’s no complaining that these issues are getting attention. But when issues that any specific group has been dealing with for literally ever finally get mainstream attention, it’s hard for the members of that community to have the patience required for everyone else to catch up.
So maybe the first step was women as successful as these being finally, publicly asked these questions. The next step, though, might be for these women to let us know that they’re not the only ones whose insight we need. Yes, we need black actresses to be able to talk about their experiences. But, when asked the very important and totally simplistic question “Do you feel the industry is doing enough for black actors?” Taraji P. Henson nails why she can’t be the only voice in this conversation.
It’s always hard. I have white friends, blond hair, blue eyes, who ain’t worked in five years. Have we seen enough representation of African-American stories? No. But has Hollywood been horrible to me? No. I’ve worked. Did I get paid what I deserve? That is the question we should be talking about. But I can’t take that on because I have worked and I’ve seen my career do this. So I never wallow in the muck and say, “Oh, it’s hard.” That’s a given. I can’t take this skin off. We know what the deal is. You understand? So I’m not going to make it an issue. I’m going to work my ass off and hopefully the work that I’m doing will change things, will make it better for the next one coming behind me. You let me in, give me an inch, I’ll take a mile. I’ve come a long way. I mean, look at me now. I’m on a hit show, I just produced my own variety show for Christmas, and I watch TV and I go, “Wow, they’re saying, ‘Taraji.’ ” Not “Taraji P. Henson,” but “Taraji’s White Hot Holiday.” (Laughs.) See, I’m white, really. I’m not black!
Knowing that Women’s Stuff now makes great headlines but not understanding nuance, THR moved the focus to trying to get French actress Isabelle Huppert to explain why she lost work by aging, but she was set on not letting it be that cut and dry. Asking why things are so much better for women over 40 in France, Huppert literally responded “Hmm …”
The interviewer persisted: But women over 40 and the no work, amirite?
Yes, but before 40 and after 40 — but I never felt underemployed because I wasn’t 30. In fact, I remember when I was 30, I stopped working for a certain time in France. It happened because it happened. It was regardless of any question of age.
The interviewer kept pushing and Huppert straight-up said “I’m embarrassed to answer this kind of question because I find it misogynistic.”
And in swoops Amy Adams for the kill:
Who you should be asking is the Producer Roundtable: “Do you think minorities are underrepresented? Do you think women are underpaid?” We are always put on the chopping block to put our opinion out there, and that question is never asked. I’m like, “Why don’t you ask them and then have their statements be the headlines in the press?” I don’t want to be a headline anymore about pay equality.
Henson chimed in there with the thing she was too polite to call out earlier.
HENSON That’s why I changed what I was saying, because they expect it: “Do you think it’s hard for African-Americans?” “Oh, yes …” (Laughs.)
ADAMS I agree with you. I think the real question should be asked of the people who make those decisions.
And that’s where these discussions get so tricky. Because yes, OF COURSE we’re happy that these questions are actually, finally considered clickbait. (And by “we,” I mean any group that has been previously or currently marginalized or under-discussed.) The wage gap is clickbait? AWESOME! Exploit the crap out of that! But what happens when we’re finally ready to move past Step 1?
The term “clickbait” gets thrown around a lot. And the constant dance of what gets written/what gets read is a fascinating and frustrating one. Because OBVIOUSLY we all—writers and readers— want the producers in charge of these decisions to be the ones being asked the questions Amy Adams has to answer. But no matter what you all say, we on this side see the analytics, and it’s a disappointing truth that “Matthew Budman Addresses That American Hustle Wage Disparity” just isn’t going to get your attention. You say you’d read that, and you really, very simply, wouldn’t. Yet Budman was, according to IMDB, an Executive Producer on that movie, and has worked with Jennifer Lawrence a lot. Wouldn’t he be a great voice to hear, or to force to speak? But I didn’t know his name, I wouldn’t write a headline with his name, and I wouldn’t expect any of you to care about a headline centered around his name.
I’m sorry, Amy Adams, to use your words about not wanting to be a headline as this article’s headline. But it’s only because of the already visible, always beautiful faces associated with these issues that we’re talking about them at all. But thank you for turning issues of racial and gender marginalization into clickbait, when until so very recently no one could think of these problems as being an even barely clickable subject. Hopefully we’ll hit Step 2, in which the issues stand on their own as being worth writing, reading, and clicking, very soon.