In a new episode of Chelsea Handler’s Netflix show, Chelsea, actress Hilary Swank shares an insane tale of how she’s experienced pay inequality in Hollywood firsthand. Swank tells the story during a dinner party segment of Handler’s show. The other guests at the table: Selma director Ava DuVernay, actress Connie Britton, and Miss USA Deshauna Barber. In case you aren’t aware, Swank is a critically-acclaimed actress. She’s won not one, but two Oscars—the first in 2000 for Boys Don’t Cry and the second in 2005 for Million Dollar Baby. But that didn’t stop a studio from trying to pay her way less than an Oscar-less male actor.
Swank tells the women that a few films after Million Dollar Baby, she was offered a movie role where she’d co-star alongside an actor who had no critical success—meaning, no Oscars. But, she says, the actor was considered “hot” by the industry. The studio wanted to pay Swank just five percent of what they’d pay the “hot” actor. “He got offered $10 million, and I got offered $500,000,” Swank says.
The women at the table are, rightfully, shocked. “This was after two Academy Awards?” Handler asks again, just to clarify. And Swank confirms. “What are you talking about?” Britton says angrily. “I believe it,” DuVernay adds.
Swank stood her ground and said no to the project, but she says the studio found a lesser-known actress who took the role for just $50,000—an even bigger pay disparity. “They made a savings of $450,000—probably to give the guy his bonuses,” Swank says.
Welcome to just another sad example of the gender wage gap in Hollywood. Yes, $500,000 for a film might seem a lot to us mere mortals, but offering Swank—again, a two-time Oscar winner—just five percent of her supposedly “hot” co-star’s salary is demeaning. Swank’s not the first actress to speak up about the insidious gender wage gap in Hollywood. Robin Wright revealed earlier this year that she had to demand equal pay to her House of Cards co-star Kevin Spacey, and Jennifer Lawrence wrote an essay for Lenny Letter last year addressing the issue, simply titled, “Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co‑Stars?” Lawrence had a rude awakening when she discovered her male American Hustle co-stars earned more than her.
Swank also shared on Chelsea that she was only paid $3,000 for her Oscar-winning role in Boys Don’t Cry. She didn’t even earn health insurance because of the low salary. “In order to have health insurance, you have to make $5,000 dollars,” she said. “So I didn’t even know I didn’t have health insurance until I went in and tried to get a prescription filled.”
Obviously, Swank’s come a long way from that $3,000 salary, but she earned her right to higher pay because of her insane talent. If a studio is going to pay Swank less than a less accomplished male co-star, that’s simply just not right. And this isn’t just happening in Hollywood. Gender parity is an issue across industries and across the world, and it’s not acceptable. On average, women in the U.S. workforce earn just 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Thank you, Swank, for standing up for the pay you deserve and for calling out the gender wage gap when it reared its ugly head.
Watch Hilary Swank talk about gender pay inequality in Hollywood below.