If you remember anything about The Huntsman: Winter’s War, the new Snow White and the Huntsman spinoff, it’s probably this: In January 2015, the film (then called just The Huntsman) made headlines after “Page Six” reported that Charlize Theron had fought hard to be paid as much money as Chris Hemsworth in the film. This was shortly after the Sony hacks had revealed that Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams were paid less than their male co-stars in American Hustle, and Theron’s raise was widely interpreted as a much-needed pushback against the Hollywood pay gap. As Theron told Elle U.K., “This is a good time for us to bring this to a place of fairness … If you’re doing the same job, you should be compensated and treated in the same way.”
Watch the film, though, and you’ll notice something. Hemsworth is the star of the film; with the exception of a brief prologue where his character’s a child, he’s in the whole thing. Theron’s Ravenna, meanwhile, has … four scenes? Maybe five, depending on how you count them. In a two-hour movie, she’s got about ten minutes of screen time — less than Hawkeye gets in the first Avengers.
Did Theron shamelessly use the conversation about the gender pay gap as an excuse to scoop up a sweet-ass raise that was incommensurate with her actual commitment to the role? I hope so! If we cant solve the pay gap overnight — and there’s no reason we can’t — the least we can do is let women exploit our collective guilt about it for their own ends. In its own minor way, this too is a sign of social progress.
Theron isn’t the first actor to be paid a ton of money for a minor role: Marlon Brando famously got $3.7 million upfront (roughly $13.5 million today) plus points to play Jor-El in Superman, and he didn’t even learn his lines. You bet your ass he didn’t apologize for it. Besides, screentime isn’t the only reflection of an actor’s contribution to a film. Theron is a bigger star than Hemsworth, who’s never proven he can open a non-Marvel movie. Having Theron in the film, even if it’s just for a few minutes, means Universal can put her on the poster, use her in the trailers, send her on the late-night talk-show circuit. Surely that’s worth a few million? (Although given the movie’s box-office tracking, that might be a different calculation than it was a year ago.)
Even if the film’s a disaster — and make no mistake, it’s pretty terrible — it’s hard not to feel in awe of Theron’s hustle. She got paid a bunch of money for a few days’ work, got to wear an awesome dress, and won’t be blamed when Winter’s War flops. And what are stars for, if not to show us visions of a good life we didn’t know was possible?