At a Sundance Film Festival panel called Women Breaking Barriers, Octavia Spencer shared a story today about the power of solidarity at the negotiating table. Spencer and her friend Jessica Chastain are developing a holiday comedy that the two will co-star in, and during a conversation the pair had about pay equity, Spencer outlined the additional challenges women of color face when it comes to equal compensation for equal work in Hollywood (and also, everywhere). “Here’s the thing, women of color on that spectrum, we make far less than white women,” Spencer told Chastain. “So, if we’re gonna have that conversation about pay equity, we gotta bring the women of color to the table.” Chastain apparently went quiet before admitting she didn’t realize what Spencer and other nonwhite professionals were up against. But after admitting her naïveté, Chastain (at least metaphorically) put on her best Miss Sloane power negotiator blazer and pencil skirt and went to the mat with producers about getting her co-star a bigger payday.
“I love that woman, because she’s walking the walk and she’s actually talking the talk,” Spencer explained. “She said, ‘Octavia we’re gonna get you paid on this film. You and I are gonna be tied together. We’re gonna be favored nations, and we’re gonna make the same thing.’ Fast forward to last week, we’re making five times what we asked for.” The double good news is that, unlike fictional lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane, Chastain did not have to wiretap a sitting senator, perjure herself, and serve a term in federal prison to get the deal done. (Though we’re not saying she wouldn’t go so far in the pursuit of justice.) So not only is Chastain still walking free, Spencer has been able to raise her quote, and is ready to aim even higher in the future, telling the crowd, “Now, I wanna go to what the men are making!”