In an interview with veteran magazine editor Tina Brown at a conference in San Francisco this week, fired ex-Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal talked for the first time about the impact of the Sony hacks on her career (bad). She also talked about the need for more women in movies, and, in virtually the same breath, defended paying those women less than men.
Some of the emails revealed Pascal as a very hardworking and basically likable executive who loved movies and wrote in a delightfully eccentric freeform verse. Others showed her alternately fawning over and shit-talking Angelina Jolie, or participating in a fairly racist email exchange about what movies President Obama might like. It was a mixed bag.
But Pascal is often presented, by dint of her high-powered former job, as an aspirational figure for women and a champion for them, someone who talked more than once about the need to welcome more female directors, for example, to Hollywood. It was that image that she worked to burnish in the interview with Brown, saying she'd love to see more women in movies:
I think that the most important thing that we can do in our business is make movies with female protagonists and movies with female villains and movies where women are the plot of the movie is about them, where their actions have consequences in the story. Because the worst thing you can do is just be on the sidelines.
She also expressed excitement over Sony's upcoming all-lady Ghostbusters reboot, telling Brown: "It's about time we have a female action series."
Yeah, it is. But Pascal was also, for 15 years, a very powerful part of the same system that deprived us of female ghostbusting. In a 2013 interview, she took responsibility for creating more space for women in Hollywood, saying, " I think it is my responsibility. Because I love movies about women. I love women. I've always cared about making movies about women my entire career. We probably hire more female directors here - if there are any- we do it because we want to and we do it because we have to."
But Pascal also admitted that the studio system was "geared for [female directors] to fail," adding, "we're going to have to change a lot of what we do" to make an environment where they could succeed. And she acknowledged that she was a part of the "powers that be" that rejected those women:
For a woman to direct a movie in Hollywood, she has to go through so many layers of rejection by the powers that be — I suppose including myself — that it is harder to get to that point. So you can't just create something. And I think there is a whole unconscious mountain.
That was kind of Pascal's default stance: a desire to hire more women, combined with a sort of shrugging, palms-up, "this is just how the business runs" attitude. "I don't make the rules," she seems to be saying in these interviews. And she took the same attitude when Brown asked her about the fact, revealed in the emails, that Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams, the only redeeming parts of the sloppy wig pile that was American Hustle, were paid less than their male co-stars, including Jeremy Renner, for God's sake.
Brown pointed out that the female actresses were earning less money without knowing it. Pascal replied:
I run a business. People want to work for less money, I'll pay them less money. I don't call them up and go, 'Can I give you some more?' Because that's not what you do when you run a business. The truth is is what women have to do is not work for less money, they have to walk away. People shouldn't be so grateful for jobs…People should know what they're worth and say no. And they will.
In other words, Pascal puts the responsibility back on Lawrence and Adams to somehow know they're being underpaid, and faults them for it. Those aren't the words of someone who was concerned with making Sony a more equitable place for women. There's also no indication that she pushed back on some of the nasty things her male counterparts had to say about women: Scott Rudin calling Angelina Jolie a "minimally talented spoiled brat," for example, or referring to Megan Ellison, a producer with fairly amazing credits (Her, Zero Dark Thirty, American Hustle) as "this bipolar 28-year-old lunatic."
It wasn't entirely up to Pascal to fix the entire sexist studio system, obviously. But a woman like Pascal, who displayed such a flare in some of those emails for spotting bullshit, should also be honest enough to acknowledge when something smells like it.
Here's the full interview:
Meagan Ellison, Amy Adams and Amy Pascal at an American Hustle screening, December 2013. Image via AP