Costume Designers Call For Pay Equity Now at CDGA Awards

“King Richard” costume designer and Lifetime Achievement recipient Sharen Davis was among the many attendees at the Wednesday’s Costume Designer Guild Awards calling for Pay Equity Now. Davis said, “I’ve worked sick. I’ve worked with a broken leg, I even worked after being hit by a car. There is no understudy for costume design. We are critical to incredible filmmaking. Let’s make this year the year that we get paid equity.”

The topic is not new with the guild. For years, costume designers have been fighting for pay equity and the sentiment of feeling undervalued has existed. Not only are they the last people off set, they are also there first thing in the morning, designers argue.

Costume designers are 85% women, yet are paid less than production designers, which are 85% men.

Oscar-winner Mayes C. Rubeo wore a custom-made Pay Equity Now facemask. She said, “We have been regarded as women, but it’s not true. We have talented costume designers in both genders.” She added, “We are so far away from production designers. The only reason I can think of is that props and designers are regarded as a male position. We need to start talking very strongly about it and not be thought of as women do costume and men do production design, we need to be thought of as equals.”

“Nightmare Alley” costume designer Luis Sequeria agreed that it was about changing the dialogue and shifting things to a more equitable position. Sequeira noted some challenges needed to be addressed.

More often than not, costume designers face hurdles as producers question their budgets and labor estimates needed to get the job done, which they say is less prevalent when it comes to departments run by men.

“Dune” winner and Oscar frontrunner Jacqueline West called for awareness for pay equity. West said, “There’s something so enticing about the film business and you do anything to get in, but you don’t fight.” She stressed the importance of pay equity particularly for the next generation of costume designers. “It’s really important that we work on that for our group.”

It wasn’t just on the red carpet where nominees and attendees drew attention to Pay Equity Now — numerous winners called attention to it during their speech.

Speaking up about rates and transparency is vital to achieving Pay Equity for costume designers. Costume designers have sometimes learned that their own crew is making more money than they are. They are working unlimited hours, while an assistant art director works 10-hour days for more money.

Shawna Trpcic, winner for Excellence in Sci-Fi / Fantasy Television for “The Book of Boba Fett” (Chapter 1)  pleaded with the audience of fellow costume designers to start reporting wages. Trpcic said, “They won’t know to fight for us if we don’t report our wages.”

Adam McKay’s go-to collaborator Susan Matheson said the “Don’t Look Up” filmmaker is a rare exception. McKay, a previous Distinguished Collaborator recipient ,made changes to his production. At the time, he wasn’t aware of the inequalities. Matheson said, “In the dinner, before he stepped up to give his speech, he lifted up this fan that said Pay Equity. He said to me, ‘What is this about Susan?’ I said, ‘Well, we are typically the lowest-paid department of below-the-line department heads.’” And he said, Well, that’s never gonna happen on one of my movies again.’”

Costume Designers Guild president Salvador Perez also addressed the issue. During his speech, he said costume designers need to be valued as a major asset to the industry and be compensated accordingly. Perez said, “We want to make a living and costume designers, historically have been underpaid for too long.”

He noted the guild will soon be launching a campaign furthering their cause on social media in the upcoming weeks.

Adds Matheson, “It’s a painful thing to be a department head and know that you are making less than your peers. It’s crushing. It really makes you feel like what we’re doing is not that important to people yet, often, when people watch movies, the thing that they remember most, other than the performances, and the film, of course, are their costumes.”

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