If you were mad at Kristen Stewart this week, you were likely upset at her for the wrong reason.
In a recent interview with Variety, the “Clouds of Sils Maria” actress—currently appearing in Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women” at the Sundance Film Festival—was asked about the gender pay gap in Hollywood. The 25-year-old admitted that she doesn’t know the answer to the industry’s problems but argued that it’s a “boring” subject to talk about. “Instead of sitting around and complaining about that, do something,” Stewart told Variety. “Go write something, go do something.” She also claimed that the real issue is that movies about men make money, and those starring women don’t.
In a confusing gaffe, Variety mislabeled her remarks: Instead of discussing gender inequality, the industry newspaper posted an abridged version on their site as a comment about #OscarsSoWhite and racial diversity in Hollywood. Before the paper’s mea culpa, the reaction to Stewart’s comments online was the exact opposite of good—with many even using it as an opportunity to make sexist comments about her appearance or advocate that she be punched in the face. (Ah, sexism.) After Twitter users suggested Stewart should sue the outlet, Variety offered an apology in the form of a correction.
But in the midst of the misreporting scandal, what was actually problematic about Stewart’s argument got lost. The real issue with her suggestion to “go do something” is that it completely ignores the barriers women in the industry face. Women have been writing, directing, and producing in their own projects since the birth of film as an artistic medium. Those efforts just don’t get the same kinds of investment as movies starring men—whether that’s in terms of pay equity or access to opportunities.
Stewart was asked to respond to widespread criticism from actresses over the past couple of years about pervasive inequality in the Hollywood system, where women are routinely paid a fraction of what their male co-stars earn. “X-Files” star Gillian Anderson was the latest victim of this, with Fox offering her half the money David Duchovny landed for the series’ recent reboot. Other actresses who have spoken up about gender inequity include Meryl Streep, Jessica Chastain, Helen Mirren, Charlize Theron, and Jennifer Lawrence. The “Hunger Games” actress is arguably the biggest star in the world, but on the set of “American Hustle,” Lawrence earned less than her male castmates.
If Kristen Stewart suggests that gap is any way due to a lack of inaction, she couldn’t be more wrong. In Hollywood, women have to try twice as hard to get even half as far. During a recent speech at the Golden Globes, comedian Amy Schumer—who called herself a “plus-plus-size actress”—noted that there’s a reason that she had to start penning her own material. “If you’re an actress and you have this area right here, you have to write your own stuff if you want to get it made,” Schumer joked.
But it’s not just Amy Schumer who has to work her ass off to get seen. All kinds of actresses are being forced to pull double- and triple-duty in order to get work on the same level as their male counterparts—especially those who are considered to be "aging" in the Hollywood system. In recent years, actresses like Elizabeth Banks, Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, Courteney Cox, Julie Delpy, Drew Barrymore, and Lake Bell have all taken their turns behind the camera, and even Stewart herself has noted that she plans on directing.
To keep starring in films into her late 40s—an age when actresses are largely shut out of the industry—Delpy had to write and direct the romantic comedies "2 Days in Paris" and "2 Days in New York," co-starring Chris Rock. Along with co-star Ethan Hawke and director Richard Linklater, she also helped write the screenplay for 2004's "Before Sunset" and 2013’s “Before Midnight.” Even though former "Friend" and "Cougar Town" star Courteney Cox hasn’t appeared on the big screen in five years—since “Scream 4” back in 2011—she helmed the 2014 indie comedy “Just Before I Go,” featuring Kyle Gallner and Olivia Thirlby.
If IndieWire’s Sophia Savage argued that female-centered movies have a “better shot at getting made when actresses hand-pick the projects and have some control,” this phenomenon isn’t just affecting veteran actresses or established talents like Portman and Johansson. It’s also true of the newest generation of ingenues. Sundance favorite Brit Marling co-wrote the indie projects “The East,” “Sound of My Voice,” and “Another Earth”—because being your own screenwriter is how you make a name for yourself as a woman in Hollywood. “For Marling, taking charge is her way in the door,” Savage wrote.
But while we should be celebrating the number of women who are successful writers and executives on top of being celebrated actresses, we shouldn’t keep relying on them to be one-woman industries to have a job at all. This is especially true for women of color: Latina actresses Jennifer Lopez and Salma Hayek both started their own production companies (Nuyorican Productions and Ventanarosa, respectively) in order to help create the parts they weren’t getting offered. “I think [the studios] don't want me, but I don't really care,” said Hayek, who produced an animated adaptation of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet” last year.
Women will continue to do everything but build the actual set — and sometimes, even that — to get their movies produced, but in an business where their efforts are worth as little as 10 percent as the men around them, that hard work will continue to be devalued and dismissed. After all, this is an industry where women aren’t just paid less and offered fewer roles. They are also told that their perspectives and viewpoints are unappealing to a general audience—too “niche” for wide public consumption. This is despite the fact that this assumption (also parroted by Kristen Stewart) is quite wrong: Movies starring women do sell, but studios simply don’t want to sell them.
Women can do every single job that they are asked—including doing everyone else’s job for them—but it won’t make a difference until the studios they work for bother to recognize it.