The makers of feel-good hit Slumdog Millionaire are trying to mitigate a controversy regarding the compensation paid to the child actors in the film. Director Danny Boyle and producer Christian Colson are taking a beating in the press after it was discovered how little the children earned in comparison to the film’s success.
Slumdog has earned about $43 million so far, and it cost only $15 million to make. In Hollywood terms $15 million is what people pay for parking, not for an entire movie (one of the many reasons why this movie is extra-special).
It has been reported that the children in Slumdog earned between $1,000 and $2,400 dollars, though Boyle and Colson will not confirm the amount.
The official explanation:
In their statement, Boyle and Colson said the production took special care to look after the children's welfare, paying for their elementary and secondary schooling (neither child had been educated before) since last June, covering their basic living costs (including health care and emergencies) and establishing "a substantial lump sum" payment for college tuition that will be distributed to the young boy and girl "when they complete their studies."Fox SearchLight said:
For 30 days' work, the children were paid three times the average local adult salary. . . . We are extremely proud of this film, and proud of the way our child actors have been treated.Slumdog was supposed to go straight to DVD and break even. Then someone at the head office stopped counting their money long enough to actually see the movie. One can only imagine how that played out. It’s not every day that something beyond magnificent pops out of fifteen million Hollywood dollars.
Boyle and Colson, bless them, gave us a movie that is - in my world – as close to perfect as it gets. From what I’ve heard, they are good and decent people trying to do right by the children who made the movie soar (because without those kids, half of the movie would be missing). Still, it bothers me that the 8 year-olds from their movie are living in squalor.
I realize that the kids made more money than anyone in their Mumbai neighborhood last year, but that’s nothing Fox Searchlight should be proud of when you consider that everyone on the block lives under a plastic tarp, next to open sewers.
Modest trust funds have been set up for the children. They will receive it when they “complete their studies”. How may children actually finish their education while growing up on a mud puddle in the Third World? These kids might make it because of recent press but only if Boyle, Colson, Fox Searchlight and everyone who saw this movie cares what people are saying about Slumdog ten years from now.
You and I could have a spirited discussion about fairness versus justice, regarding the children’s salaries. But I would tell you, in all fairness to the big picture, justice is not being served.
There's something else. I’ve been wondering if the Hollywood dealmakers are warming their hands by the trash can fires of the latest Slumdog news. They have a vested interest in making expensive movies that cost much more than $15 million. It’s not good for business when someone else can do a better job for half the money, Salim.
I want this movie to win the Oscar and it would be terrific if the happy ending can reverberate throughout the lives of everyone involved with Slumdog. I would be thrilled beyond repair if the movie did not end here, but I know that reality often trumps a dream. For a little while, Slumdog made me think the opposite can happen. For that much I am grateful.
If you have not seen this movie, you should.