Why actresses still earn too little

When actor Jacob Derwig had to negotiate his wages a while back, he asked if this could be done together with the other lead actors in the production. The goal: to ensure that all three, including his female colleague, would get the same. The actor told the anecdote during a meeting about the position of women in the Dutch film sector in the Eye Film Museum. The cause of the afternoon was the recent study ‘Better is not good’ that showed that the Dutch film and television sector is more female-friendly than Hollywood, but not nearly as equal as often thought. Nearly seven out of ten managerial positions on a set in Dutch film and television productions go to men.

Derwig gave a glimpse into his wage negotiations when actress Jacqueline Blom started talking about the pay gap between actors in the Netherlands. Examples from the Anglo-Saxon-speaking region are known that would sound almost comical if they weren’t so tragic. So deserved Claire Foy, who played Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix series The Crown, less than actor Matt Smith, who played her husband. In the Netherlands too, according to Blom, producers often do “their utmost” to pay male actors more. Figures from the actors’ association ACT show that in 2019, the last pre-corona year, female members earned an average gross of 30,000 euros per year, male members 41,500. The researchers established that this difference was not caused by hours worked. However, according to them, you cannot say with certainty what the cause is. This calls for more transparency and research.

Also read an interview with Anniek Pheifer and Jacqueline Blom: ‘We also want to claim things about the world’

It is commendable that Derwig wants to contribute by being more open to colleagues. At the same time, the anecdote feels double. Isn’t it crazy that as a man Derwig had to ensure that his opponent was paid equally?

Sometimes it seems right that an actor earns more than his opponents. Rewards depend on factors such as total budget, the size of their role, and an actor’s ‘market value’. The latter is an elusive mix of acting skills, audience fame and something like star quality

The elusive way in which that ‘market value’ is determined is precisely the problem, explains Officer Emma Onrust when I call her about the matter. She is co-owner of Features Creative Management, the agency that represents actors such as Gijs Scholten van Aschat and Rifka Lodeizen. According to Onrust, there are few producers who consciously pay women less and the consultations that Derwig describes are more frequent. According to her, the inequality arises because the films with large budgets in the Netherlands are usually written by men, have male directors and especially male protagonists. „Male actors have big roles in movies like Battle of the Scheldtfemale in soof† That second film has a lower budget, so lower rewards. In addition, after every big budget-production in which you participate your market value and therefore also your daily price.” The ‘Better is not good enough’ survey also shows that there are slightly more leading roles in the Netherlands for men than for women. Especially for older actresses, Blom sighs.

Because of the attention to the subject, something seems to be slowly changing. But great strides will still need to be made before actresses can help a male colleague by nobly demanding that he earn the same as she does.

Sabeth Cutters is a film critic.

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