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Why is Patricia Arquette getting criticised for her Oscar speech?

She called for wage equality “once and for all”.

The 87th Academy Awards - Press Room - Los Angeles Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

WHEN ACTRESS PATRICIA Arquette won her Oscar last night, she used it to call for an end to wage inequality in the US.

After thanking her fellow nominees and the stars and crew of Boyhood, she read from a prepared speech and said:

To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.

Source: VineTheatre/YouTube

Afterwards, she elaborated on her comments:

Source: ODE/YouTube

The initial speech was lauded by many (especially Meryl Streep, who gave it a big ol’ finger of approval as Arquette was talking):

meryl streep arquette

But it goes beyond gender

So why is Arquette being criticised – notably by women and feminists – for her comments?

It’s not down to the call for equality, it’s down to the words she used when asked to elaborate on her comments backstage:

It’s time for all the gay people and all the people of colour to fight for us now.

Arquette hasn’t had a chance to respond to the criticism, so let’s look at what some see in these words.

It’s being read as, firstly, a failure to articulate that people of colour, different social classes, and sexualities are still fighting for equality across the globe (such as gay rights in Russia, transgender recognition, an end to racist incidents in sport, and educational equality in the US).

Wage equality doesn’t mean forgoing the fight for equal rights in other areas to focus on one issue.

But there are also women of colour who are members of the LGBT community, meaning that they are fighting for rights within different but intersecting areas.  People felt that this was ignored by Arquette when she spoke about it being “time to fight for us now”.

That’s why intersectionality is a word that’s cropping up a lot in the discussion of Arquette’s speech:

arquette t

But what does it mean?

intersectionality Source: Wikipedia

The term was coined by academic Kimberle Crenshaw, in this essay published in Stanford Law Review.

She points out that:

Feminist efforts to politicise experiences of women and antiracist efforts to politicise experiences of people of colour have frequently proceeded as though the issues and experiences they each detail occur on mutually exclusive terrains. Although racism and sexism readily intersect in the lives of real people, they seldom do in racism and antiracist practices.

You can read the full essay here, but what Crenshaw is pointing out above is the problem some have with Arquette’s speech: that as a white woman with privilege, she may not realise that others – people of colour, gay people – might be dealing with a range of inequalities and prejudices aside from, and including, their gender.

Arquette may yet clarify her comments further, but this episode shows that when celebrities are speaking about inequality, there needs to be an awareness of the inequality that others are experiencing too.

So, is wage inequality in Hollywood a thing?

The 87th Academy Awards - Press Room - Los Angeles Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

In the US, women make up about half of its labour force, but “full time women worker’s earnings are only about 77% of their male counterparts’ earnings”, the White House says.

As for intersectionality:

The pay gap is even greater for African-American and Latina women, with African-American women earning 64 cents and Latina women earning 56 cents for every dollar earned by a Caucasian man.

That is despite the passing of the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

In Hollywood, you’re not talking about women or men earning small chunks of change. But the fact there isn’t wage parity at the upper echelons of the entertainment industry is telling.

Let’s take the Forbes earnings lists as a way of demonstrating the gap between what male and female actors earn.

Robert Downey Jr topped the list in 2014, earning an estimated $75m. Top of the list of highest earning actresses was Sandra Bullock, who earned an estimated $51m.

As Forbes points out, while the top 10 earning actors brought in $419m in wages between June 2013 and June 2014, the top 10 actresses brought in $226m in wages.

What else?

Leaked Sony emails also revealed last December that two of Hollywood’s biggest female stars, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, were paid less than their male costars in American Hustle.

The 87th Academy Awards - Show - Los Angeles Source: AP/Press Association Images

As Business Insider detailed, even in Sony itself there is a pay gap – one of the co-presidents of Columbia Pictures makes $1 million less per year than their counterpart.

They have the same title, but Michael De Luca is paid more than Hannah Minghella.

In an interview with Forbes in 2013, Amy Pascal of Sony said that “there are not enough parts [in films] for women to star in to get paid”, which is why when it comes to wages, “averages don’t work”.

She said that things need to change about a system that is “geared up for [women] to fail”.

Which brings us back to Patricia Arquette’s speech

It’s clear that many actors feel there is wage inequality in Hollywood, and that it is an issue some big players want sorted.

We know this is how Meryl Streep feels about it:

meryl streep arquette

So Arquette’s comments really struck a chord with people.

But what her comments also showed is that inequality isn’t just a gender issue – and it pays to be cognisant of that when you speak out about it.

Not because you’ll face a Twitter ‘backlash’, but because inequality affects millions of people in many different ways.

Read: The 22 most memorable moments from Oscars 2015>

Read: 8 reasons why this year’s Oscars were the feminist Oscars>

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