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Of all the lines Laura Dern has uttered in nearly four decades as an actress, there’s one in particular that she’s heard repeated over and over again. It’s from 1993’s blockbuster hit Jurassic Park, said by the character of paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler: “Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the Earth.”
It always makes Dern proud.
“At various events, for women’s rights advocacy and various organizations, I have many, many times, unrelated to me, seen a Dr. Ellie Sattler quote used to start the conference or start the conversation,” Dern tells Yahoo Entertainment. “I just love that Ellie is, you know, a bit of a feminist hero. And I know for kids, when I did that film, they really loved seeing her in power and fighting off raptors, doing some very cool, badass stuff. Ellie is forever alive in my heart, and I’m very close to her.”
The Big Little Lies actress herself is an advocate for women, and today she’s debuting an ad she executive-produced calling attention to the gender-pay gap in Hollywood and beyond on National Equal Pay Day. The clip shows both women and men shopping in a grocery store, taking NUT-rition snacks to the register and being told that the men can only buy the packages that include 20 percent less than the pack for women. A man wants to buy a women’s pack in order to get more? Too bad.
The clip illustrates the fact that, in the United States, women earn about 80 cents for every dollar earned by men.
NUT-rition, the snack company that teamed up for the ad, is selling a special limited edition Equal Pay Pack of its snacks that will benefit Equal Rights Advocates and help to fund a hotline people can call when they’re dealing with pay inequality.
Dern, a leading activist with the Time’s Up movement in Hollywood, was compelled to do something, because of her own experience dealing with the issue.
“I think as actresses, we never thought we should speak up, because our profession seems glamorous and why should we complain? But, in our experience, many of us were experiencing a gender-pay gap of maybe 80 percent compared to, for example, the male lead in a film we were doing,” Dern says. “And we wouldn’t say anything. We were just lucky to be there. We were just lucky to be in a movie, etcetera, etcetera. But what we learned is everyone feels that in a workplace environment. We are lucky to have a microphone. We better use it. Many women in various industries are and if we’re all using it and all standing together, then we’re one and there’s no stopping us.”
Dern says that on her latest projects, women are more open to talking about the gender-wage gap.
“We started a group text amongst fellow women who were working on the same project to share information and to say, ‘Hey, this thing happened. Has that ever happened to you?’” Dern explains. “You know, transparency has changed everything. ‘What do you make? What do you make for over time? They never gave you overtime?’”
It’s a conversation now happening in other places, too: schools, restaurants and elsewhere.
“Interestingly, a friend who’s working in sports media and is a female commentator versus her male colleagues, and she’s very beloved, but she’s a woman in what they consider a man’s world, covering the NFL,” Dern says. “And it ain’t 20 percent difference in the numbers. And she only knew that because she started talking to her male colleagues, who very transparently said, ‘Hey, are they taking care of you, like they take care of us? Because this is what they give us.’ And that’s how she found out, so we all have to do this together.”
Audiences will see Dern next in the second season of the award-winning female-centric series Big Little Lies, alongside stars and executive producers Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, when it returns to HBO in June. As you might have heard — in all the excitement —this season Meryl Streep has joined the cast, which also includes Shailene Woodley and Zoe Kravitz.
“We all pretty much fell to the ground, and I literally did kiss her feet the first time I met her, that was a number of years ago, so I had already done that,” Dern says of Streep. “But we were honored and in awe of her as not only an artist, of course, but as a human rights advocate and activist and environmentalist and female rights supporter. She’s amazing. You know, journalistic advocate. She’s just incredible. So she teaches me every day in this kind of work and became part of that family instantly, and we were blessed to have that experience and continue to all stay in touch and be very close, and it’s really, really incredible.”
Dern’s return as Dr. Ellie Sattler is less certain, although the current stars of the franchise, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, have hinted that it will happen.
“I mean, I guess [Sattler could return],” Dern says. “It’s just like when I was doing Star Wars and people were like, ‘Do you think this could happen? Do you think that can happen?’ They always say, ‘Anything can happen in space.’ But I guess if dinosaurs can roam the Earth again, you never know what could happen.”
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