Viola Davis is one of the most talented actresses working today in Hollywood. Since her big break in the 2008 film Doubt, she has become the first Black actress to achieve the Triple Crown of Acting (Oscar, Tony, Emmy). Yet, if you look at her compared to her contemporaries, there is a clear issue with the opportunities she has been allowed to have versus others.
An old interview with Davis resurfaced last week that became very topical in the conversation about what Black creatives get paid in comparison to their white counterparts.
“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 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.”
In case you didn’t know, Davis is also a graduate of Juilliard School and won her first Tony back in 2001, way before Doubt even came out.
The actress continued, saying, “But I have to get on that phone and people say, ‘You’re a Black Meryl Streep. There is no one like you.’ OK, 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.”
Hollywood loves to grab onto a handful of Black female stars and put them in pictures, and that will be their “inclusion” players for the next decade. Viola Davis should not just be a star that gets called up for serious dramas. Put her in a romantic comedy. Put her in a romance. Put her in more science fiction and fantasy—but as the lead, not a prop.
What Davis is discussing points at one of the things Black and Brown actors have been saying since the beginning of the industry: You can be great, you can be excellent, you can be exceptional, but if people don’t give you a chance or you don’t make enough to create your own chances, it doesn’t matter. Because then you are an exceptional underpaid and overworked actor.