A sure sign that awards season is nigh are the ubiquitous roundtables, hosted by generally fawning journalists, that have begun popping up on industry sites like The Hollywood Reporter over the past five years. Inevitably, the moderator asks those at the actress roundtable about the current state of women in Hollywood, a question so tired, hackneyed, and directed at the wrong people that Amy Adams, who is not known for her volatility off-screen, went off a little at last year’s roundtable when the Reporter’s Stephen Galloway asked about the gender pay gap.
“You’re not asking who you should be asking … the producers’ roundtable, ‘Do you think minorities underrepresented, do you think women are underpaid?’” Adams fired at Galloway. “We’re always put on the chopping block to put our opinion out there.”
Questions posed to women about how they feel about whether they’re paid as much as their male costars, who incidentally are never asked how they feel about their privilege, have become so trite that Saturday Night Live developed a wickedly delightful parody of such events in which Kate McKinnon plays seasoned (and hardened) aging actress Debette Goldry who casually drops yarns about the abuse she endured at the hands of male colleagues in Hollywood. The tales she relates with blithe matter-of-factness have included everything from being forced to marry a homosexual chimp (that’s one of the least invasive stories) to having her molars removed so she would look “less Polish” on screen.
Since October of last year, McKinnon has donned Goldry’s oversize tinted glasses three times, including just this past weekend, when host Melissa McCarthy played Goldry’s friend, aging actress Gaye Fontaine, who happens to be the record holder for on-screen love scenes with 400 to her name. Cecily Strong and Sasheer Zamata stood in for the second time as Marion Cotillard and Lupita Nyong’o respectively to offer a contrast to Goldry’s lively, hilariously horrifying tales of abuse. But as wickedly funny as McKinnon is in the role, which is on par in its genius with her alien abduction character, it’s not clear if Goldry’s horror stories of the Hollywood heyday do much to illuminate the inequities actresses continue to face. Because, sure, progress is good, but better is not equal.
In an actresses-in-film sketch from a February SNL episode that Emma Stone hosted, the moderator asks Leslie Jones (Ghostbusters), Stone (La La Land), Jennifer Aniston (Office Christmas Party), and Goldry about the gender pay gap, and before the current working actresses can answer, Goldry, dumbfounded about the question of equal pay, cuts in with a story about how actresses in her day were paid out of the props budget and therefore treated like inanimate objects. Her tales brim with violations both real and not entirely fantastical that women in the business have surely endured and continue to be exposed to on some level.
In the most recent actress forum, sketch moderator Vanessa Bayer asks about the state of women in Hollywood, to which Strong’s Cotillard says blandly, “We change who we are to please others,” and Zamata’s Nyong’o adds, “We must change our preferences to be considered agreeable.”
That’s when Goldry drops the line about removing her molars for a role, adding, “Back then, if you wanted to be a star, you had to lose a couple of bones.” McCarthy’s Fontaine adds, “One time a producer came up to the two of us and said, ‘If you remove half your ribs, I’ll put you in our movie.’” Strong’s shocked Cotillard asks how they handled the situation, and Goldry says matter-of-factly, “We removed half our ribs” as she and Fontaine toss up their hands like there was no other option.
While the series of sketches mocking actress roundtables is on point for getting at the ridiculousness of the questions moderators continue to press to actresses who have little control over the gender gap or the fact that there aren’t better parts for women over a certain age, it’s hard to know if this particular satire eases or exacerbates the problem.
“Why don’t you ask [the producers] and then have their statements be the headline and press?” Adams said when Galloway continued with questions of equality at the Reporter’s roundtable last year. “I don’t want to be a headline anymore about pay equality.”
Tales of the casting couch and torture women have suffered at the hands of obsessed, controlling directors don’t abound like they did in the golden age of Hollywood, but the highest-paid actresses still don’t make nearly as much as their male counterparts who pull in similar box office, an issue Jennifer Lawrence addressed on Lenny Letter when the Sony email hacks revealed that she and Adams were paid significantly less than their male American Hustle costars Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper. And the pay gap is just one of the problems women in Hollywood face. A lack of opportunities and roles for women over a certain age has continued to be an issue.
So while it’s nearly impossible not to laugh when McKinnon relays the tale of her homosexual chimp husband running off with the brooches she once received in lieu of pay, it’s hard to wonder if the sketch doesn’t do enough to shine a light on ongoing inequities.