Actress Michelle Williams at US Capitol to push for pay equality

Michelle Williams recalled she was once paid dramatically less than a male colleague for similar work. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Hollywood actress Michelle Williams went to the United States Congress on Tuesday (April 2) appealing for a vote on a law to close the gender pay gap, recalling how she was once paid dramatically less than a male colleague for similar work.

Nominated for four Academy Awards during her career, the star of Manchester By The Sea (2016) and Brokeback Mountain (2005) learned that while she earned US$1,000 (S$1,350) in 2017 to reshoot scenes for the film All The Money In The World, her male co-star Mark Wahlberg received US$1.5 million "for the exact same amount of work."

The reshoots on the Ridley Scott film were done to remove appearances by Kevin Spacey, who had played a leading role and recently had been charged with sexual assault.

"If it was like this for me, a white woman in a glamorised industry, how were my sisters suffering across their profession?" Williams said.

The 38-year-old actress's appearance at the US Capitol was organised by House Democrats to mark Equal Pay Day, meant to symbolise how far into the year a woman must work to make what men earned in the previous year.

"Today, American women still earn, on average, only 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man, while African-American women earn only 61 cents and Latinas earn only 53 cents for every dollar paid to men," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives last week passed the Paycheck Fairness Act aimed at ending gender-based pay discrimination, still a problem decades after the Equal Pay Act of 1963 passed into law.

The new measures would prevent employers from asking prospective workers how much they made in previous jobs, and by barring companies from punishing women when they try to negotiate salaries.

No date has been set for a vote in the US Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.

"The ball's now in the Senate court," Williams said. "This is the next critical moment, please don't let it pass by."

The Williams/Wahlberg pay discrepancy made national headlines when actress Jessica Chastain revealed it on social media, and it gained traction amid the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment.

Following the backlash, Wahlberg donated his US$1.5 million earnings to a charity that addresses inequality and injustice in the workplace.

Several Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls including senators Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders on Tuesday urged the Senate to follow the House's lead and pass the pay equity legislation.

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