Fans of Marvel’s “Avengers” series have long griped about the franchises’ ratio of male to female superheroes. Just earlier this year, while promoting “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” Mark Ruffalo pointed out that he could still not find enough Black Widow merchandising in the likeness of Scarlett Johansson, the most prominent woman star of the series. But for this week’s cover story about pay disparity in Hollywood, Variety learned that Johansson earns roughly the same compensation from “The Avengers” series as her male co-stars Chris Evans (who plays Captain America) and Chris Hemsworth (Thor).
Previous reports suggested Johansson received more than twice the salary of Hemsworth and Evans for “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” But those statistics were not accurate, sources added.
Robert Downey Jr., who negotiated a rich deal after 2008’s “Iron Man,” with estimated earnings of $80 million this year from all his movie projects, still gets paid the most, according to sources familiar with the actors’ contracts. But the news about Johansson’s pay is at least a speck of hope for an industry that’s come under fire recently, with claims of sexism and reoccurring pay disparity for actresses compared to male movie stars. Last month, Jennifer Lawrence set the blogosphere ablaze with her essay about receiving less money than her male co-stars from the Sony Pictures comedy “American Hustle.”
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“The Avengers,” distributed by the Walt Disney Co., is from the rare studio that’s been actively trying to balance the scales in recent years when it comes to women in film. “Audiences have proven that there’s an appetite and a market for dynamic female leads and female-driven stories, and as an industry, we have a responsibility to create those roles for women and compensate them accordingly,” Alan Horn, the chairman of Walt Disney Studios, tells Variety.
Disney has not only backed a slew of girl-power animated films, such as the juggernaut “Frozen” (co-directed by Jennifer Lee to the tune of $1.27 billion worldwide), “Brave” and “Inside Out,” but its live-action unit is also leaning in. Sources say that Angelina Jolie received one of the biggest paychecks of her career for “Maleficent,” which included a percentage of the film’s $758 million worldwide box office grosses. This year, Disney cast Cate Blanchett as the evil stepmother in “Cinderella” and Emma Watson will soon take on the role of Belle in the upcoming “Beauty and the Beast.” Even the poorly received “Tomorrowland” gave the bulk of its screen time not to George Clooney but to the spirited female newcomer Britt Robertson.
And it’s not just on the big screen that Disney is trying to make sure women receive equal face time. Geena Davis, who runs an institute for gender in media, serves as a consultant to their theme parks. “The goal of the rides is to be current and last for 20 years at least,” Davis says, adding that she encourages the engineers to expand female characters that may have smaller roles in films. “I’m always saying, ‘Maybe in 20 years, we won’t have a gender discrepancy.’”