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Patricia Arquette Responds To The Suggestion Women Filmmakers Just Aren't That Good

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 23/03/2016 Sara Boboltz

Patricia Arquette kicked the conversation around gender equality into a higher gear by using her Oscars acceptance speech to protest discriminatory pay practices in 2015

Arquette's argument -- that women deserve equal pay for equal work -- is simple and obvious. But it's not without its whispered criticisms -- one of which being that work done by women filmmakers and actors isn't good enough to demand higher pay. 

In a panel discussion about female directors in New York Wednesday, Arquette offered her response to the suggestion that women in her industry haven't worked quite as hard as their male peers.

"That's always the convenient argument that people have made throughout time to oppress other people," the actress said. "Their value is lesser. They don't have a story to tell. They don't have a skill set. They're not smart enough. I think that's not a valid argument at all."

"You can't talk caveman to me," she added.

Since Arquette's Oscars speech, numerous other A-listers -- most notably Jennifer Lawrence -- have piped up with their own accounts of pay discrepancy between themselves and male co-stars. It's an unfortunate symptom of the larger trend of women continuing to earn less than men in nearly every industry. 

But as panelists discussed Wednesday, gender bias in Hollywood frequently takes different forms, not all of them explicit. Arquette was joined onstage at the event by three young women directors who'd recently completed short documentaries in partnership with Tribeca Digital Studios and ActuallySheCan, a broad pro-women campaign sponsored by pharmaceutical giant Allergen. 

While the younger women agreed that their experiences in the entertainment industry have not been marked by overt sexism, they do not believe the problem has yet been solved. 25-year-old documentarian Erin Sanger called industry sexism "insidious."

"Nobody says, 'Oh, I'm not hiring you because you're a woman,'" Sanger said. "It's institutionalized." 

Surely, declaring a fictional ineptitude of women would be a shortcut to a public relations nightmare in 2016. But to Arquette, the current Hollywood status quo -- where it's taboo to make explicit sexist comments but women still comprised just 3.4 percent of directors and one-third of on-screen speaking roles in popular films last year -- is a different strain of a decades-long problem.

"I think it's funny," she said, "Because I really come from a different generation where there was overt bias. I mean, people would straight-up say things that were just clearly biased to you; there was no way around it. And I think a lot of that's been driven underground and is more subterranean. You're surprised when you see the outcome of it, when you didn't see it coming."

There's an inherent injustice of paying someone less for equal effort. Not giving women -- and other underrepresented groups like people of color -- the same opportunities as men in Hollywood also hurts everyone who watches film, the actress explained.

"I think art is suffering for it," Arquette said. "If you're limiting your vision, then you're limiting the story of human beings."

ActuallySheCan and Tribeca Digital Studios will debut three short documentaries -- "The Cocinera," about a 25-year-old woman chef; "Women in the Wild," about female dog mushers in Alaska; and "Chromat," on a structural plus-size lingerie line -- online on April 22. 

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