Viola Davis is one of the most respected actors working in Hollywood today with an Oscar, Golden Globe, Emmy, BAFTA, Tony awards and more accolades for her roles both onscreen and onstage to her name.
But now a two year old clip of Davis has gone viral in which she revealed she still has to fight for “what I’m worth.”
While stars such as Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon and Natalie Portman have been at the forefront of the call for gender pay equity in Hollywood, Davis’ speech hit on the harsh reality that Black women in Hollywood are frequently paid significantly less than their white counterparts.
The viral video, which was filmed when Davis appeared as a speaker at the Women in the World conference in 2018, saw her compare the trajectory of her decades-long career to those of similar white actresses - as well as being referred to as “Black Meryl Streep.”
Referring to the actresses spearheading the pay equity movement in Hollywood, she said: “We won’t talk about gender inequality of pay because a lot of the women who stepped forward - and I stand in solidarity with them, okay - what they’re getting paid, which is half of what a man is getting paid?
"Well, we get probably a tenth of what a Caucasian woman gets. And I’m number one on the call sheet. And then I have to go in and I have to hustle for my worth. That’s what I feel like I’m doing.”
Referring to her “thirty-year professional career”, the Julliard-trained actress continued: “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. I have a career that’s probably comparable to Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, let’s say Sigourney Weaver.
“They came out of Yale, they came out Juilliard, 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,” she continued.
Despite her illustrious career, Davis said she has to “constantly get on that phone” to fight for her worth (with the help of her “fabulous agents”).
The How To Get Away with Murder lead continued: “People say, ‘You’re a Black Meryl Streep. You are. And we love you. We love you, there is no one like you.’ Okay then, if there’s no one like me, you think I’m that, you pay me what I’m worth. You give me what I’m worth.”
Davis also continued that she also longed for more complex roles to create “the most complicated human being”, comparing her work to an architectural sculptor. “But what I get is the third girl from the left.”
The video clip swiftly went viral on Twitter, with one tweet calling for someone to “give @violadavis her flowers” garnering over 182.7k likes and nearly 78k retweets at the time of publication.
— Jimmy Folino - Black Lives Matter (@MrNiceGuy18_58)June 30, 2020
Hollywood figures such as Selma director Ava DuVernay have raised awareness about the inequality surrounding the salaries of Black women, with DuVernay sharing statistics that Black women are “paid 39% less than their white counterparts.” She added: “This is true in every industry. Hollywood included.”
Taraji P. Henson also revealed in her 2016 memoir that she was made to cover her own accommodation for the filming of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and was paid “less than 2 percent” of lead star Brad Pitt’s salary. (She played Pitt’s adoptive mother in the film.)
She wrote: “The math really is pretty simple: There are way more talented black actresses than there are intelligent, meaningful roles for them. This is exactly how a studio can get away with paying the person whose name is third on the call sheet of a big-budget film less than 2 percent what it's paying the person whose name is listed first.”
Today is #BlackWomensEqualPayDay which highlights the hard fact that Black Women in America have to work 599 days to make what white men get in 365 days. Black Women are paid 39% less than their white male counterparts. This is true in every industry. Hollywood included. pic.twitter.com/wvpq9xJmVG— Ava DuVernay (@ava)August 22, 2019
“I knew the stakes...If I pushed for more money, I'd be replaced and no one would so much as blink,” she continued.
Last year, only one woman of colour made Forbes 10 highest-paid actresses list - Colombian-American actress Sofia Vergara of Modern Family.
A more recent Forbes 2020 Celebrity Rich List saw just three Black women make the list: including Barbadian singer Rihanna in 60th place, athlete Naomi Osaka in 90th and Oprah Winfrey in 91st.
Although Rihanna and Winfrey have taken on acting roles in the past, no Black female actors placed on the top 100 list however actors including Vergara and Angelina Jolie did.