This week, people are buzzing about the wage gap “scandal” with Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Williams, and the reshoots for the movie All the Money in the World.  Most of the press centers around criticizing Wahlberg and the injustice done to Williams – a woman getting paid so much less than her male costar. Frankly, I think that’s the wrong story.

Mark Wahlberg (I still call him Marky Mark in my head) – well, he negotiated.  He was asked to do a job (the reshoots) in return for financial compensation, and he negotiated that amount upwards. In this case, he had a lot of leverage.

If reports are true, here’s how things went down:  After the horrific allegations against Kevin Spacey came out, Director Ridley Scott swiftly made the decision to recast Spacey and reshoot all of his scenes.  I have serious respect for Scott on this one – the film’s release day was a month away, which meant there was tremendous time pressure to make it all work out. The logistics were not going to be easy. Wahlberg – who, as one of the lead actors in the film, would also be needed for the reshoots – recognized he had the upper hand and used it to his financial advantage. He negotiated for more money in return for his buy-in.

He saw an opportunity for financial gain, and he took it. He did not maliciously hurt Michelle Williams. He didn’t demand her salary be lowered in order to increase his. My hunch is that he probably never considered Williams as a part of this equation at all.  That doesn’t make Mark Wahlberg a bad guy. It may not make him a ‘likeable’ one, but that’s a different story. There are many, many ways this could have been negotiated.  Was Wahlberg making it easy for Scott and the team to do this?  No, certainly not.  But that doesn’t mean it was malicious or sexist or even professionally inappropriate.  It was simply him negotiating the best deal he could get for himself.  Period.  It was business.

One of the problems I have with vilifying Wahlberg here, is that it makes Williams a victim in a story about his behavior.  Instead, I’d love to see a story focused on the magnality of hers.  Could Williams also have negotiated for higher compensation?  Of course.  Would she have gotten what she asked for?  I have no idea.  Frankly nobody does, because she didn’t ask.

Does this make Williams a bad negotiator?  A doormat to Wahlberg’s more aggressive business skills?  Maybe.  That’s certainly one angle to consider. But I think it’s something different in this case.  If you listen to her words, Williams specifically said “I’d be wherever they needed me, whenever they needed me.  And they could have my salary, my holiday, whatever they wanted. Because I appreciated so much that they were making this massive effort.”

So . . . she essentially volunteered to forego the money.  On purpose.  To support something bigger. That doesn’t mean Wahlberg is a bad guy because he didn’t.  That was her choice.  That should be the captivating story here.

It’s not that she didn’t negotiate or stand up for her worth.  It’s not that she didn’t know her value, or couldn’t fight for it.  She wasn’t a victim of a situation, she was a leader in one.  She knew it wouldn’t be easy for them to replace Spacey last minute, and she “appreciated so much that they were making this massive effort” – and she put her money where her mouth was.  She supported them publicly and financially.  That’s respect.  And leadership.  Williams is not a victim, quietly taking whatever comp she can get.  She is a fiercely respected, 4-time Oscar nominee, who has gotten – and will continue to get – outstanding roles because of her talent. And her character.

If reports are true, Wahlberg had his lawyers draft a letter formally rejecting Plummer (Spacey’s replacement) unless his financial demands were met.  And in the end, he got a $1.5M paycheck for the reshoots. But do you think Ridley Scott – a respected and notable director in the industry – is going to forget that?  I don’t think so.  Do you think he’s going to forget Williams’ markedly different approach?  No, I don’t think he will forget that either.

Let’s stop victimizing Williams, and tell a different story.  The one about value and support and the boldness it takes to do the right thing when it’s not as easy as we’d like.  Wahlberg proved himself a sharp financial negotiator in this one. Good for him. But Williams . . . I think she’s playing the long game. I’ll put my money on her.