Oscars 2015: Patricia Arquette stirs controversy with equal-pay remarks

Patricia Arquette accepts the supporting actress Oscar for her role in "Boyhood" at the 87th Academy Awards.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

In accepting the Oscar for supporting actress on Sunday, “Boyhood” star Patricia Arquette wound down with:

“To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’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.”

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The moment brought huge cheers from the audience, epitomized by Meryl Streep, who pointed several times in excited agreement.

It also triggered some strong reactions on cable news and social media.

On “Fox & Friends” on Monday morning, the actress and pundit Stacey Dash slammed Arquette for the issue, saying she was “appalled” by the moment and admonished her for not “do[ing] her history” on the 1963 Equal Pay Act.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, the speech and additional back stage comments drew a backlash from some unlikely quarters -- African Americans and other minorities who felt that the speech short-shrifted their own struggles.

The issue of equal pay for women has come to the fore in Hollywood this season, particularly in light of outgoing Sony chief Amy Pascal making comments about the lower pay for Jennifer Lawrence and other actresses in the studio’s movies. Arquette has had a profitable TV career (“Boyhood” wasn’t a big paycheck for any actor, man or woman), but says she feels this is a pressing issue both in her industry and many others.

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Lest one think her Oscar speech was a quick shout-out, backstage she offered an articulate elaboration to reporters, saying, per the Los Angeles Times’ Tre’vell Anderson: “I think we need federal laws that are comprehensive; in different states, they have altogether thrown out the Fairness Voting Act. People think we have equal rights; we won’t until we pass a constitutional amendment.”


She wrapped up her backstage comments with a strongly convicted statement on the issue.

“It is time for women,” she said. “Equal means equal. And the truth is, the older women get, the less money they make. ... And it’s inexcusable that we go around the world and we talk about equal rights for women in other countries and we don’t [here]. ...The truth is, even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, right under the surface, there are huge issues that are applied that really do affect women. It’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”

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And it’s unlikely Arquette will back down. She continued the sentiments with a string of tweets on Monday morning, including some that addressed the minority concerns. “Guess which women are the most negatively [a]ffected in wage inequality?” she wrote. “Women of color. #Equalpay for ALL women. Women stand together in this.”

In her speech, Arquette also offered a complicated list of thank-yous to her family. A few of the members she called out to were well-known -- “Rosanna, Richmond, Alexis and David,” who are, of course, her Hollywood-friendly siblings. But she also dropped a bunch of other names -- “Thomas and Paul, and Enzo and Harlow” -- as well as the artist Eric White, whom she called “my favorite painter in the world.”

Enzo and Harlow are Arquette’s children (cue the “Boyhood”-themed “have you been drinking” jokes, though maybe not with Harlow, who turns 12 today). The first two names are the respective fathers of her children -- ex Paul Rossi from her early twenties and second husband Thomas Jane, whom she divorced in 2011. Notably, she didn’t thank Nicolas Cage, her first husband, either because they didn’t have babies or because she didn’t think him worth thanking.‎

White, meanwhile, is Arquette’s boyfriend, a surrealism-influenced artist and her date at many awards shows this season. The speech offered a glimpse into an actor’s real-life couplings, offering a parallel of sorts to Arquette’s romantic journey in the movie -- and making one wonder about the interaction between the fictional and real in her own mind as some of these relationships played out during the 12-year shoot.


Twitter: @ZeitchikLAT