Hollywood is full of talented actors who can bring any story to life onscreen, and Viola Davis is undoubtedly one of them. But even after almost three decades of stunning audiences with her performances on television and in film, the actress still isn't getting the respect — or the checks — that she deserves.
A video from 2018 is once again making its rounds around the internet, reminding the world just how underrated Davis is. The clip, taken from a conversation at a Women of the World event two years ago, shows the award-winning actress discussing the disturbing pay gap that occurs across gender and racial lines.
"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."
Davis, a Julliard alum, 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, paving the way for other 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, all of that talent and success still hasn't amassed to an equitable path as a Black actress; the Shondaland lead's career and coins are still being stifled by the forces that be.
Last year, Davis's net worth was an estimated $12 million, a total that is devastatingly low in comparison to Streep's $150 million or the $50 million of Moore. The disparity is symptom of Hollywood's refusal to pay people of color (specifically Black women) what they deserve, a problem also reflected across various industries.
And Davis isn't the only one — other Black Hollywood icons have talked openly about their struggle to be recognized for their celebrated bodies of work. Just months ago, Davis joined Mary J. Blige, Taraji P. Henson, Kimberly Elise, Halle Berry, Lynn Whitfield, and Angela Bassett in a conversation about being Black women in the industry for T Magazine. The discussion shone a light on the entertainment world's history of singling out certain Black actresses as examples of diversity in an otherwise wholly-white space while simultaneously restricting their opportunities.
"What I see Hollywood do is feature one or two of us, and they'll ignore the rest of us like we don't exist," Elise, star of The Diary of a Mad Black Woman, shared. "It gives the illusion that we're moving forward, but it's really disempowering the collective."
Hollywood has always had an equity issue, but in the climate we're living in, the glaring inequality of the television and film industry seems more urgent than ever. Promises to put more people of color in front of the cameras and behind the scenes as push for anti-racist representation sound nice, but they mean nothing without other actionable changes. Diversity efforts need to extend beyond just faces in a room (looking at you, Academy). There are a number of ways to address this history of systemic inequality, — we need more seats at the table, more opportunities to expand our professional portfolios, and a lot more money.
But first, let's start with changing the way we talk about talent. Davis is a powerhouse of her own right, a theater-trained actor with years of stage and screen experience under her belt. As such, she isn't "the Black Meryl Streep." She's the 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.