Roundtables and any group interviews in general, really, are often disaster zones of people talking over each other. Even in the Harvey Weinstein era, which has repeatedly proven that speaking out can really create real change—especially when the voices have strength in number and star power—by increasingly opening the floodgates for women (and men) to finally tell their stories of experiencing abuse at the hands of powerful men, speaking out all at once doesn't seem like the most effective option.
But when Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Stone, Mary J. Blige,, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, and Saoirse Ronan all got together for a roundtable with the Hollywood Reporter that centered on sexism in Hollywood, it was that very chaos that in fact created quite a happy accident: All of the actresses issued a collective, powerful "ugh" in response to Chastain detailing one of her many experiences encountering the industry's systemic wage gap—summing up in one exhaled breath what it's been like to read the news or simply be a woman over the past month and a half.
That sentiment, of course, is not foreign to anyone who isn't a white man in power—it's simply grown more pronounced and public as of late. Chastain's "ugh"-eliciting story actually dates back to 2012, when even after she won a Golden Globe and was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for her role in Zero Dark Thirty, she "was sent a lot of scripts where it was a female protagonist, and they wouldn't do my deal until they knew who the male actor was because they needed to do his deal first and then see what was left over" to offer for her salary.
Those types of battles are still being fought; even Stone, who's said that her male co-stars have taken pay cuts for her, agreed with Lawrence that she's been called "difficult" when Lawrence detailed instances in which she "finally made the decision to stand up for myself, and then I went to go to the bathroom at work and one of the producers stopped me and was like, 'You know, we can hear you on the microphone, you've been really unruly.' Which was not true, but basically my job was threatened because the director said something f---ed up to me and I said, 'That's sick, you can't talk to me like that, and then I was punished, and I got afraid that I wasn't going to be hired again."
It's important to keep in mind here that even Lawrence, the world's highest-paid actress in 2015 and 2016, one who can afford not to look at her male co-star's salary, was subject to being called "difficult and a nightmare"; imagine, then, what it might be like for those who aren't A-listers to even think of standing up for themselves. "I think a lot of people aren't coming forward because they're afraid they're not going to work again. You need to be able to say, 'This is wrong' and have somebody do something about it instead of saying, 'Oh, it's wrong? Well, you're fired,'" Lawrence continued.
Stone didn't get specific about her experiences, describing herself as someone "who holds in a lot and gets really nervous to speak" and pointing out that "we have to recognize that there are so many who haven't told their stories yet, who aren't comfortable to share." (Case in point: Gwyneth Paltrow was repeatedly criticized for not calling out Weinstein, before she came out with her own story of going through the trauma of his abuse.) But Stone, who recently starred as the feminist sports hero Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes, did say that it was "very tough" to realize how "depressingly relevant" the 44-year-old facts in the film were—though she did concede that some strides have been made.
"Women can get their own credit card without a male signing for it, which you couldn't in 1973. And so obviously we have our own credit cards now, which is great, and we're really, really thankful," she said with a laugh.
As this photo of Selena Gomez and Adam Sandler at a premiere will forever illustrate, the industry has also presented women with the hurdle of heightened expectations for their appearances—another thing that the group could also unfortunately agree on. (Though the conversation centered around their appearances onscreen, Chastain took care to add that she doesn't "love the way I look normally.") "It's so hard because the first time I watch anything, I'm just watching my double chin and my acne, and I'm bloated," Lawrence said, to which Chastain responded, "Are you crazy?"
"Am I the only one?" Lawrence asked. "No, I'm the same way," Janney responded. "For I, Tonya, I got to do this old-age makeup, and I was like three hours in this makeup, and then I saw myself and I was like, 'Oh, my God, this is fantastic. I don't have to worry about my jowls.' It was so freeing to go and work on a part that I didn't care what I looked like. Even seeing it, I was like, 'Oh, god, I can watch myself because I look so awful.'"
The conversation also got to sexual assault, of course, as it's become clearer and clearer that women are systemically abused in Hollywood, which seems not to have been news to any members of the roundtable. Mary J. Blige said she in fact started dressing as a tomboy when she started her career to shield herself from the abuse she faced when she was younger. And while the rest seemed to have begrudgingly accepted sexism as a fact, it seems like no mistake that Ronan, who's the youngest of the bunch at 23, appeared to have the rawest outrage: "The really disappointing thing about all this is that [journalists and others in Hollywood] had all of this s--- on all of these men and women for the last few years, but they hadn't done anything with it. It's just been swept under the carpet," she said.
In fact, it's the least famous, youngest, and therefore perhaps least jaded woman in the story who puts it best. Chastain recalled how Aaron Sorkin, who's directing her upcoming film Molly's Game, told her that he told his 16-year-old daughter, Roxy, "Listen, when you go into the workforce, if a guy grabs you or does something with you, you can scream, you can fight back." In response, Chastain continued, Roxy "turned to him and said, 'Dad, why are you teaching me to defend myself and not teaching those guys not to be creeps?'"
"The onus isn't on women," Chastain added. "Society has a way of blaming victims: You didn't come out soon enough or you're not asking for enough money. But the onus is on others not to abuse their power."
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