Benedict Cumberbatch has declared that he will not be accepting any movies where his female co-star is not offered equal pay. Hello Bollywood heroes, this is how you do feminism.
Put your money where your tweet is, Farhan Akhtar, Varun Dhawan, Akshay Kumar, Rajkummar Rao, Aamir Khan — some of the men from Bollywood who have, in the recent past, expressed their anger on crimes against women — it is time to do something that counts for more than a gesture, something that actually translates into change.
It is not hard to imagine the effect if Salman Khan stands up and says he will refuse any further roles unless the female lead actors in his movies are paid equally. Producers will simply have to listen.
Some feminists have raised concerns about how Cumberbatch has taken women out of the game by doing this, and that he should not assume women don’t have the power to negotiate for themselves. This is hogwash. The equal pay fight needs momentum and support across the world, and this show of solidarity from one of the most popular actors of our time is hugely welcome.
We need men to rally round — be our allies — and Cumberbatch has shown other men how to be an ally.
When men with universal appeal and influence like Benedict Cumberbatch take such a clear and sharp stand for the women in their industry, it is effective not just in their industry or their country but counts for a wider signal across industries and countries.
At this moment, it is fairly ridiculous to say that a man has hijacked our movement. This is a crucial boost to the equal pay fight, and by extension to feminism, no doubt, but that fight has been brought to the table by women.
Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem were paid equally for their film Everybody Knows.
Instead of worrying about him snatching away negotiation rights from women, I say, congratulations, equal pay champions, you made Cumberbatch not just support but physically push your legit demand.
Globally, women make only 77 cents to a dollar that men make for the same job. The World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts that if we start now, it will still take 170 years to close this gap. Gender pay gap is close to 25 per cent in India according to the Monster Salary Index 2016 — and in Bollywood even top female actors like Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra are paid significantly lower than their male co-stars.
Aamir Khan has been known to say that women in Bollywood are paid less because they are not seen to be the chief crowd-puller — the reason, he says, is the deep-seated patriarchy in society which views the man as the hero and the woman as secondary.
While there may be some truth in that and while Aamir Khan cannot alone change the mindset of Indian society, what stops him from demanding equal pay for equal work nevertheless? How society views them is no reason for their cheques to be lighter than their counterparts: If women can’t be heroes in the minds of regressive Indians, at least their bank balance won’t suffer if influential men in Bollywood join them in the fight to reduce the gender pay gap.
Cumberbatch’s declaration comes soon after the news that Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem were paid equally for their upcoming movie Everybody Knows, and that Thandie Newton will be paid equally for her role in the television series Westworld.
These are rare heartening moments of salary parity in the entertainment industry but together they are a sign of better times.
Walking the talk is very far for the gentlemen of Bollywood, however, most of whom, such as the great Amitabh Bachchan, rarely even speak up for women. One can only hope that Cumberbatch’s definitive action will at least restart the fight for equal pay here in India and across the world. Maybe one day Aamir Khan will go from saying he doesn’t “mind” if his female co-stars are paid equally to demanding they are paid equally if film producers want any crowd pullers at all.