Until Michelle Williams took to the stage tonight at the 2019 Emmy Awards, the evening was shaping up to be relatively apolitical. (Patricia Arquette briefly championed transgender rights in her acceptance speech for The Act, while the Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker made a joke about assuming 52 percent of the audience had voted not for Bandersnatch, but for Brexit.)
But then the star of FX’s Fosse/Verdon, whose performance as the actor and dancer Gwen Verdon won her the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series, stepped up to the mic. The award, she said, was “an acknowledgment of what is possible when a woman is trusted.” Williams briefly listed the requests she made in preparation for the role: more dance classes, more voice lessons, “a different wig, a pair of fake teeth not made out of rubber.” The answer to all her requests, she said, was “yes—and all of these things, they require effort, and they cost more money, but my bosses never presumed to know better than I did about what I needed in order to do my job and honor Gwen Verdon. And so I want to say thank you so much to FX and to Fox 21 Studios for supporting me completely and for paying me equally.”
At that moment, the audience inside the auditorium cheered. Williams knows about pay inequity: In 2018, amid the Times Up movement in Hollywood and beyond, it was revealed that Williams was paid $80 a day for 10 days of reshoots after the actor Kevin Spacey was replaced in the movie All the Money in the World. Her co-star, Mark Wahlberg, was paid $1.5 million for the same work. The discrepancy in compensation between Williams and Wahlberg became one of the most visible illustrations at the time of how differently men and women in Hollywood can be treated, and it demonstrated, my colleague David Sims wrote at the time, “just how unprepared Hollywood is, as a business, to confront the economic dimensions of gender inequity.”
Wahlberg responded by agreeing to donate his salary to the Times Up Legal Defense Fund in Williams’s name. “The lesson here,” Melissa Silverstein, the founder of Women and Hollywood, tweeted at the time, “is that pressure for equal pay works.”
Williams clearly hopes so. She wrapped up her speech by pleading for people to listen to women when they ask for things in order to do their jobs. Particularly, she said, women of color, who stand to make 52 cents on the dollar compared with their white male counterparts. “Listen to her, believe her, because one day she might stand in front of you and say thank you for allowing her to succeed because of her workplace environment and not in spite of it.”
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