Viola Davis is undoubtedly one of Hollywood’s most treasured actors. The actress has won several accolades for her powerful performances. From playing the iconic Annalise Keating in How to get away with murder to her touching performance as Aibileen Clark in The Help. She has done it all. But even after nearly three decades of stunning performances, the actress still isn’t getting the respect, or the checks, that she deserves.
Viola Davis’s stirring speech on discrimination and pay inequity in the entertainment industry still rings true several years later. In February 2018, the actress was interviewed by veteran journalist Tina Brown. It took place in Los Angeles at an event hosted by Women in the World. The viral video which is now making rounds on the internet is reminding the world just how underrated Davis is. The clip shows the award-winning actress discussing the disturbing pay gap that occurs across gender and racial lines.
“They had the same path as me, and yet I am nowhere near them”
“I have to hustle for my worth. That’s what I feel like I’m doing,” Viola said in the clip shown above. “I got the Oscar, I got the Emmy, I got the two Tonys, I’ve done Broadway, I’ve done off-Broadway, I’ve done TV, I’ve done film, I’ve done all of it.” Davis reminded the audience.
“I have a career that’s probably comparable to Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Sigourney Weaver,” she continued onstage. “They all came out of Yale, they came out of Julliard, they came out of NYU. They had the same path as me, and yet I am nowhere near them. Not as far as money, not as far as job opportunities, nowhere close to it.”
“You’re a Black Meryl Streep”
Viola went on to say that, despite her “fabulous” and understanding agents, she still finds herself talking to executives that say, “You’re a Black Meryl Streep. We love you. There is no one like you.” Viola added, “OK, then if there is no one like me, pay me what I’m worth. You give me what I’m worth.”
Davis, who is a Julliard alum herself, has been acting in Hollywood since the early 1990s. Her role in the 2008 period drama Doubt (alongside Streep) is widely considered her breakthrough performance. She went on to deliver award-winning roles in projects like The Help, How to Get Away with Murder, Widows, and both the play and film adaptation of August Wilson’s Fences. Unfortunately, her talent and success still hasn’t amassed to an equitable path as a Black actress. This is a symptom of Hollywood’s refusal to pay people of color what they deserve. It has also been observed as a common problem across various industries.
People have spoken about the gender gap on numerous occasions, however, they often sideline the racial gap that is still prevalent in Hollywood. Davis is living proof. Viola is an A-lister with an impeccable resume and countless awards. Yet she is still not being fairly compensated. She isn’t “the Black Meryl Streep.” She’s Viola Davis, the woman whose onscreen breakdowns will reduce you to tears right in your own bedroom. And that should be more than enough reason to pay her exactly what she deserves.
“They’ll ignore the rest of us like we don’t exist”
Davis isn’t the only other Black actor who has talked openly about their struggle to be recognized for their work. Just months ago, Davis joined Mary J. Blige, Taraji P. Henson, Kimberly Elise, Halle Berry, Lynn Whitfield, and Angela Bassett for T Magazine. The discussion revolved around singling out certain Black actresses in an otherwise wholly-white space while also restricting their opportunities.
“What I see Hollywood do is feature one or two of us. Then they’ll ignore the rest of us like we don’t exist,” Kimberly Elise shared. “It gives the illusion that we’re moving forward, but it’s really disempowering the collective.”
Praise for Viola Davis
Viola Davis was rightfully praised by many fellow celebrities on social media for calling out the issue.
Model Naomi Campbell shared a quote from the clip about the ethnicity wage gap, which she hashtagged ‘#blackexcellence’ and ‘#equalpay.’
Gabrielle Union wrote, ‘This!!!!!! All day THIS!!!!’. The actress was recently fired from America’s Got Talent and is suing NBC and Simon Cowell over ‘racist actions.’
Oscar winner, Octavia Spencer wrote, ‘Nope!!! You are THE one and only @violadavis that is all! #knowYourWorth #noIsTheMostPowerfulWord #IUseItOften.’
Community actress, Yvette Nicole Brown wrote: ‘Dear @violaDavis, this is WHY we stan! #YoureWorthIt!’
Viola’s clip has gone viral just 3 days after one of her ‘You’re Worth It’ commercials for L’Oreal was aired during the first virtual BET Awards.
Viola Davis also recently joined Idris Elba, Queen Latifah, Kerry Washington, and 300 others in signing the Hollywood4BlackLives initiative, demanding fair treatment. The letter called on the industry to rectify systemic issues. It included pay disparities, a lack of representation at the leadership level, and the devaluation of Black-led projects.
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