Octavia Spencer says LeBron James “had to intervene” to get her equal pay on new Netflix show

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Sarah Shaffi
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Octavia Spencer

Male allies are essential in the fight for equal pay, says Octavia Spencer.

Octavia Spencer is an Oscar-winning actress, and she’s an executive producer and the star of a forthcoming Netflix series.

But that still wasn’t enough to get her equal pay for the eight-episode show, which tells the true story of Madam CJ Walker, a black hair care pioneer who became America’s first black, self-made female millionaire.

It was only after former basketball player LeBron James, whose production company is behind Madam C.J. and who is also an executive producer on the show, got involved that Spencer received equal pay for her work, she revealed at a panel at Sundance Film Festival.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 04: Actor-producer Octavia Spencer attends the 19th Annual AFI Awards at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 4, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

Octavia Spencer is starring in Netflix’s Madam C.J. 

According to IndieWire, Spencer said: “I have to say, when I was negotiating my deal for Madam C.J., LeBron James had to intervene.”

She added that she and other women needed “male counterparts to be in the fight” for equal pay.

Spencer said her goal was to “make sure that all women of colour get equal pay, and all women get equal pay”.

The only way to do that, she added, was to “have these conversations, to talk numbers with your co-stars”.

She referred to Jessica Chastain, who helped her negotiate five times her initial salary for a comedy when she found out about a pay gap between the two actresses.

Speaking in 2018, Chastain said: “I knew women of colour got paid less than Caucasian actresses. What I didn’t know is someone of Octavia’s level, who had an Oscar and two Oscar nominations, how much less she would be getting paid. When she told me what she was making, that’s what really made me go, ‘Hold up, that doesn’t compute in my brain.’”

As well as the gender pay gap, there have also been discussions at Sundance this year about the lack of female film directors. In 2018 just four of the 100 highest grossing films were directed by women. 

Time’s Up’s 4% Challenge is demanding that stars, producers and studio heads commit to working with a female filmmaker - especially one of colour - within the next 18 months. Tessa Thompson was one of the first to sign up, and this week Universal became the first studio to accept the challenge.

There’s a long way to go before gender parity is achieved in Hollywood, but it’s clear that it’s only be working together that change will come about.

Image: Getty


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Sarah Shaffi

Sarah Shaffi is a freelance journalist and editor. She reads more books a week than is healthy, and balances this out with copious amounts of TV. She writes regularly about popular culture, particularly how it reflects and represents society.

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