Viola Davis explains how Hollywood has undervalued and underpaid her for being a Black woman

Tobi Akingbade
Thursday 02 July 2020 08:30
news
(Getty)

A resurfaced video of Viola Davis reminding the world of just how underrated – and underpaid – she is has gone viral.

The actor can be seen in a 2018 video listing her accolades over the last three decades, and it has left people stunned over the racial pay gap in Hollywood.

The clip, taken from a conversation at a Women of the World event two years ago, has been watched 7.5 million times at the time of writing, and sees her tell Tina Brown that she is often reduced to being called “the Black Meryl Streep”.

Viola does not hold back as she says:

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, Sigourney Weaver. They all came out of Yale, they came out of Julliard, they came out of NYU.

She added:

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.

No lies were told.

Viola is a Julliard graduate, and his been acting since the early 90s – also known as the time period before some of her recent co-stars were even born.

Her role alongside Meryl in 2008 period drama Doubt was considered her breakthrough performance. Since then she has swept the award seasons clean for her parts in Widows, Fences (both film and stage adaptations), The Help and How to Get Away with Murder.

But her accolades, similar to that of Meryl's, have not reflected in the amount of money she makes.

Last year, Davis's net worth was an estimated $12m (£9.5m), a total that is shockingly low to Streep's $150m (£119.9m).

Bryce Dallas Howard, Ahna O'Reilly and Viola Davis in 'The Help'(DreamWorks)

It may be two years since Viola sat on that stage to perfectly break down the statistics, but it’s increasingly important that we hear her voice again.

Hollywood’s refusal to pay actors of colour, especially black women, the coins they deserve needs to not only be addressed but to be changed.

Viola isn’t the only Black Hollywood icon to speak out about being drastically underpaid, with Empire star Taraji P Henson pointing out that Tyler Perry was the first studio head to give her half a million dollars for a role.

Last year, Taraji said:

I think the industry knew I was talented. But it’s about money. Are you bankable? I had to continuously prove that. I’ve been trying to prove and improve. I was asking for half a million. I didn’t get paid that until I did my first Tyler Perry film.

I was never in a position where I could not take a job; by the grace of God, they have all been really good characters. But it was never a situation where I was like, ‘I’m not going to do that.’ Now, I’m finally there.

Just months ago, Viola and Taraji joined Mary J Blige, Kimberly Elise, Halle Berry, Lynn Whitfield, and Angela Bassett in a chat about being Black women in the industry for The New York Times' T Magazine.

The conversation has put a spotlight on showbiz’s historic patterns of singling out certain Black actresses as examples of diversity causing them to be restricted with their opportunities and thus being underpaid.

The racial pay gap in the entertainment industry is not a new topic but it seems this viral video of Viola has left people forced to face the topic head on, especially because Viola can make a rock shed tears in some of her most famous tear-jerking scenes.

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