Jessica Chastain is one of the most vocal advocates for gender pay equity in Hollywood. Last April the actress revealed exactly how she asks for salary parity for her own projects. Spoiler alert: It’s nothing complicated. She just directly inquires about her pay in comparison to the male costars’. “I don’t care about how much I get paid; I’m in an industry where we’re overcompensated for the work we do,” Chastain told Variety. “But I don’t want to be on a set where I’m doing the same work as someone else and they’re getting five times what I’m getting.”
Now Chastain’s fighting a similar fight for other actresses. News broke last week that Chastain and her costar from The Help, Octavia Spencer, are teaming up for a new holiday comedy. And when the two of them started salary negotiations, they made sure to be on equal-level playing fields.
But Chastain had to learn about the pay disparity between white women and women of color first, which Spencer brought up to her in a phone conversation. At the Women Breaking Barriers panel at Sundance this year, Spencer recalled the chat she had with Chastain about the subject.
“[Jessica] was like, ‘It’s time that women get paid the same as men. I was like, ‘Yeah, Jessica! It’s time,'” Spencer said. “And then I said, ‘But here’s the thing: Women of color, on that spectrum, we make far less than white women. So if we’re gonna have that conversation about pay equity, we gotta bring the women of color to the table. And I told her my story, and we talked numbers, and she was quiet. She had no idea that that’s what it was like for women of color.”
This encouraged Chastain to take action. “I love [Chastain] because she’s walking the walk and she’s actually talking the talk,” Spencer continued. “She said, ‘Octavia we’re gonna get you paid on this film.’ I said, ‘I would love to do your film, but here’s the thing: I’m gonna have to get paid.’ She said, ‘Of course, and you and I are going to be tied together. We’re gonna be favored nations, and we’re gonna make the same thing. And you’re gonna make that amount.’ Fast-forward to last week, we’re making five times what we asked for.”
Watch Spencer tell this story for yourself, below. Start around the 19:30 mark:
This is how change is made, to be honest. Of course, having conversations about pay equity is important. We should keep doing that, but it’s important for people who have privilege to take action where they can. Chastain is doing just that, and she’s making Hollywood a better place—for all women.