Caroline Goldstein
Updated Mar 19, 2020 @ 3:14 pm
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Reese Witherspoon has long been a champion of equal pay in Hollywood. In 2018, she spearheaded a movement to close the gender pay gap at HBO. (If anyone can do it, it’s the woman who portrayed both Elle Woods and Tracy Flick.) But despite the major accomplishments she’s achieved for equal pay, Witherspoon told Vanity Fair that she’s not putting this torch down anytime soon. In fact, she openly shares her pay rate with other female actors so that they, too, can know (and demand) a fair rate.

“Witherspoon is happy to talk about money and contracts,” interviewer and novelist Ann Patchett wrote in the Vanity Fair April 2020 cover story. “She believes in the power of information because if other women don’t know how much you’re being paid, the only person who stands to benefit is the person who’s writing the checks.”

According to Patchett, Witherspoon regularly checks in with a power group of Hollywood women to share information, including (“but in no way limited to,” she said) America Ferrera, Shonda Rhimes, Tracee Ellis Ross, Ava DuVernay, Nancy Meyers, and Laura Dern.

And Witherspoon told Vanity Fair that her effort to share her pay rate with other women in Hollywood is having an impact.

“‘An actress came up to me at a party and said, ‘Do you know what you’ve done?’ I had no idea what she was talking about. The day after the HBO equal pay thing went through, they called her agent to rewrite her contract. She was then paid twice as much as she had been,’” Witherspoon said.

But beyond sharing information and convincing studio executives to pay women what they’re worth, Witherspoon has made a material difference by actually creating roles for women, both onscreen and off, where before there were very limited options to be found, or none at all. This dearth of opportunities for women in movies and TV is something Witherspoon knows intimately: She’s been a working actor since she was 15, and said she had always been struck by the gender disparity on set.

“‘I can remember being in pictures in which I was the only woman on the set and there would be 150 men,” Witherspoon told Patchett. “‘Maybe there would be a couple of women in wardrobe. I remember when I was a kid I would find them and cling to them.’”

Now, as the founder of her production company Hello Sunshine, Witherspoon has been able to “fill a movie with all sorts of women: women of different races and ages, women from the LGBTQ+ community, women who are differently abled,” Patchett wrote. Patchett also noted the not-so-small fact that Witherspoon’s production projects—which include female-centric blockbusters like HBO’s Big Little Lies and Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere—are making money. “Lots of money.”

Still, there’s a frankly overwhelming amount of work to be done in leveling the playing field for women and for marginalized people—in Hollywood, yes, but in virtually every other industry, too. But Witherspoon’s efforts set a worthy precedent for even more changemakers to follow. Consider us galvanized.