The weeks since the untimely passing of Chadwick Boseman have seen several clips, anecdotes and soundbites surfacing, celebrating his talent as well as his inspiring and kind demeanour off-camera.
In a recent interview with Empire magazine, Sienna Miller added to his growing catalogue of heartwarming tributes when she revealed that he donated some of his salary for action thriller 21 Bridges in order to boost hers to the number she felt she deserved.
‘It was about the most astounding thing that I’ve experienced,’ she told the interviewer.
‘That kind of thing just doesn’t happen. He said, “You’re getting paid what you deserve, and what you’re worth.” It’s just unfathomable to imagine another man in that town behaving that graciously or respectfully.’
How incredible, I thought upon reading Miller’s words. While being yet another element of the late star’s thoughtful character that has made the internet mourn his loss once again, this action is noteworthy as it’s a perfect example for how someone with a particular privilege can use it to benefit someone else.
When Boseman – who was a producer on the film as well as its lead actor – saw that his cast mate was going to be paid a rate lower than what she was comfortable with, he took it upon himself to right a systemic wrong that has left women underpaid for decades.
Instead of overlooking it, or chalking it up to an unjust set of practices that are slow to change, he sacrificed some of his own pay in the name of fairness.
Even though this is undeniably noble, it’s a shame that something like this is so unusual, and not the norm – because it’s personal actions like these that cause the most immediate impact for others, rather than standing by and waiting for a broken world order to rectify itself.
The years since the rise of gender equality initiatives such as Time’s Up has meant that Hollywood, as well as many other industries, have been forced to investigate the ways that women have been short-changed, in terms of pay as well as opportunities and accolades, for generations.
In many cases outside of the 21 Bridges film set, institutional racism would have resulted in Sienna Miller’s whiteness placing her in a more privileged position.
However, the prevailing gender gap in the entertainment industry meant that Chadwick Boseman was in a position to even the scales, not only paying lip service to the idea of being an ally, but tangibly proving that he was in solidarity with his colleague’s struggle.
As well as the gender pay gap, the race pay gap means that Black women in many industries get paid even less than white women – resulting in a double bias and an extra element of exclusion.
In 2018, Octavia Spencer revealed how Jessica Chastain helped ensure that Spencer was paid five times the initial salary she asked for in an film they both starred in by standing with her.
While pay gaps like this shouldn’t exist, it is admirable to see people using their benefits to compensate for the failings of an unfair structure.
In the aftermath of this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, social media was filled with people wondering how they can show up for others. In an era where catchy phrases like ‘checking your privilege’ are repeated often, it is more important than ever for us to be aware of how our social characteristics not only give us power, but of how society is biased against others.
A 2019 poll by YouGov found that LGBT+ employees in the UK take home an average £6,703 less per year than their straight colleagues, resulting in a pay gap of 16%. Figures from the Office for National Statistics found that disabled employees earn on average 12.2 per cent less than non-disabled workers.
For some, statistics like these are no surprise, but merely something they’ve had to constantly battle. However, if this is news to you, there is now a responsibility to do something about it.
Mostly, film stars are in financial positions to take these pay cuts, and it would be unrealistic to expect people without similar salaries to make the same personal concessions. To put it baldly, straight, white, wealthy and able-bodied men are best placed to redistribute power for those who don’t share the same privileges.
However, if there’s something I’ve taken from this latest account of allyship is that there are most likely ways that I’m not using whatever power I have to amplify the experiences of those who need it in different ways than I do.
Am I properly calling out homophobia and transphobia any time I overhear an off-hand comment? Am I outraged enough when TV programmes or films are inaccessible to people with hearing or sight disabilities?
Being an ally doesn’t mean posting a black square once, or using a rainbow filter during Pride month and then continuing to let the world work as normal. For true progress to be made, there has to be a consistent pattern of taking on the causes of others when we see wrong-doing.
While we campaign for issues that affect us directly, we should all be consistently aware of opportunities to raise others up by speaking out in protest, sharing useful information and passing the proverbial mic to let others be heard.
Along with his groundbreaking performances, Chadwick Boseman has left us with a reminder of the impact that can be had when those with power show up for others.
The world may be a less bright place without him, but by recognising ways we can help others get fair treatment, we can only try to make up for it.
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