By Moonah Ellison & Zoe Stagg
Photography by Alison Dyer
Patricia Arquette has never taken the quiet route. From True Romance to Ed Wood, Little Nicky to Holes, she’s done it all. Indies, comedies, horror, an Emmy-winning seven seasons on TV’s Medium — the only common force in the roles Arquette has played, is that they’ve somehow sparked her interest. “Acting is about the human condition and about survival mechanisms, and about understanding the human behavior.” It’s an approach that’s sustained her through a decades-long career. “I love acting, and I love being able to be an artist, but that’s not enough for me in the world. That’s not a complete representation of me, so I’m also grateful to try to use my name or voice to try and help bring about change, or try to shine a light on situations that might need to be through acting.” Her Twitter bio links to GiveLove.org, the foundation she started to help displaced families after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, and distills her true driving force. “Improving public health globally starts with improved sanitation & clean water, & having an opinion.” Arquette has been very busy making sure that her opinions are well heard.
It was one such unusual role, a part in the seven-year filming of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, that gave Arquette a global stage to make her statement. “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.” Standing in front of Hollywood and the world, clad in elegant black and white with one shoulder bared, she was dressed up — and dressed for a fight. “I was winning this award for the single mom who really struggled to support her kids, and put herself back through school, and has made economic changes, but then moved to new schools and things that impacted her kids because she was doing the best she could.”
That award, was an Oscar for Boyhood. Arquette’s impassioned acceptance speech earned thunderous accolades, with Meryl Streep famously captured mid-standing ovation, and gave her a platform for her advocacy.
Backstage, Oscar in hand, Arquette used her media time to continue to raising awareness. “It is time for us. It is time for women. Equal means equal.” She’s far from a just a marquis name or just a financial supporter of this cause, the fight for wage equality — she knows her stuff, and can cite the grim figures that drive her. “African American women, they actually lost money from last year, this year. Now they are averaging 60 cents on the dollar, and Latinas in California, which is the seventh largest economy in the world, are now making 44 cents on the dollar.”
Her moment in the spotlight was far from the end of her crusade on this issue. Arquette is the Executive Producer to the Kamala Lopez-directed documentary, Equal Means Equal. The project aims to make the plight of the American woman, much clearer.
Arquette is clear and armed with facts. “They say that 66 million women and children are living in poverty in America, and if they were paid equal wage, 33 million of them would no longer be. And you know, people don’t look at the correlations, they think women have great rights in America — but they care about poor kids. You can’t really say you care about changing the situation of poor kids in America, if you’re not going to look at what’s happening to their mothers.”
“Women can’t just do everything, and lead a huge political movement alone. Maybe it’s part of our nature, or part of the way that it’s always been for so long, that we’re taking care of others’ needs before we address our own. This is one of those situations where we’ve reached a critical time where women need to put on their oxygen masks first.”
Change like that, doesn’t come easily, and she isn’t asking for incremental victories. She wants it all. “What we need is an unnatural, uncomfortable, radical pivot. We need to start doing things that are acutely awkward at first, maybe over-reaching to one side.”
According to current forecasts, the wage gap isn’t set to close until 2059, and that’s hardly a fixed deadline. It’s a race that can’t ever be won, as long as the finish line keeps moving.
While her work on Equal Means Equal is a passion project, it dovetails with her professional life tightly. “When I looked at my character [in Boyhood], which was written by Richard Linklater, who was raised predominantly by a single mom, and he loved and respected her very much, I got to play a part we don’t usually see so much in Hollywood.”
Her drive to agitate the system, however, comes naturally. “My whole family were radicals, all of them were radicals. They were constantly talking about politics and government and things going on. Strange thing is, we didn’t really talk about women’s rights very much at home.”
But make no mistake, her pro-female fight is anything but anti-men. “It’s crazy that we have to keep saying that. I mean, we love our men! Of course we love our men, they’re our sons, they’re our lovers, they’re our husbands, or brothers, or friends, or our fathers.” True to that notion, she thanked the fathers of her children, Enzo and Harlow, in her Academy Award speech. “I mean, it’s silly that we have to keep saying that, we just need to deal with this gender imbalance. There needs to be a political shift, and part of it is understanding that women are the largest voting block, and that we do have power. And that we need to really harness our power, and let them know that we vote on these issues, and that they matter a lot to us, and to understand that we need to make rapid progress for the rest of our lives to change, and for our daughters’ lives to change.”
She grabs every opportunity she can to keep relaying that message, including social media. As active as she is there, truly using the medium as a megaphone for her activism, she notes the bizarre shortcomings it places on keeping memories to yourself, instead of letting Facebook take over that function. “I am discovering a lot about my own life. It’s funny you know, you have five siblings in your family, and you all have different memories at different moments at different times in your life. I grew up in a time before Instagram and everything, when everything wasn’t documentable minute-by-minute. I got to grow up in a time where memories were organic. It’s a different thing.” She’s wildly supportive of all her siblings, tweeting links and praise to her brother David’s turn as Sherlock Holmes on stage and speaking out with pride and understanding to transgender people, citing the love and acceptance her sister Alexis’ transition taught her.
“I think our parent’s mantra was to raise good human beings, that were global citizens, that cared about other people, and that also were creative people.”
And Patricia Arquette has grown to be a living, screaming embodiment of that mantra.