TORONTO (AP) — Walking through a tunnel alongside Billie Jean King at the grounds of the U.S. Open, Emma Stone gasped at the size of its main court.
King, of course, was more familiar with the sprawling tennis center in Queens, New York — it’s named after her, after all (the stadium itself is named after another tennis legend, Arthur Ashe). But as accustomed as Stone is to the spotlight, her playing fields are usually private film sets or more intimate television show audiences. In making “Battle of the Sexes,” a new film about King’s infamous 1973 showdown with Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), Stone was often both awed and a little jealous of the stages on which King crusaded for sport and for women’s rights. (King helped win equal prize money for women at the U.S. Open that same year.)
In tennis, the lines are clear, the scoreboard is final and a landmark victory against sexism could go down in straight sets.
“It’s just such a longer conversation in the movie industry,” Stone said in an interview shortly after watching the women’s finals with King earlier this month, which saw Sloane Stephens capture the trophy. “When I look at a tennis match, whoever wins at the end, the prize money should be equal. There are so many moving parts in how that comes to pass on a film to film basis. But of course things need to be changed.”
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“Battle of the Sexes,” which Fox Searchlight will release Friday, is in some ways a time-traveling experience back to the 1970s and the chauvinism of another era. But the film, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, also seems very much of today, coming less than a year after a bruising presidential election often fought over gender lines. And King’s fight for pay equality — she helped launch the female-only Virginia Slims tennis circuit after objecting to the disparity between male and female prize money — also has clear reverberations for Hollywood’s own issues in compensating men and women equally.
Stone has spoken about pay equality in Hollywood. In July, she said she has previously insisted male co-stars close the pay gap by cutting their salaries. She acted out of inspiration from King and some of her own contemporaries, like Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence penned an essay in 2015 about pay disparity after emails from the Sony hack revealed she had been paid less than her male co-stars in…