Over the last few years, Viola Davis has been put on a pedestal as one of Hollywood’s strongest actors, male or female. She’s won an Oscar for her work in Fences, an Emmy for How to Get Away With Murder, a Golden Globe and two Tony awards. She has held her own on screen with some of the legends, including Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep, even being compared to them. But according to Davis, despite accomplishing that with a career that’s lasted nearly three decades, she’s still not being compensated like them or getting the role opportunities they do, particularly what’s offered to her white colleagues. Frankly, she’s tired of it.
“I have a career that’s probably comparable to Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Sigourney Weaver,” the star said at a Women in the World event this week in Los Angeles. “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, no where close to it.”
“People say, ‘You’re a black Meryl Streep … We love you. There is no one like you,” she added. “OK, then if there’s no one like me, you think I’m that, you pay me what I’m worth.”
She elaborated, noting that the roles they’re offered are nowhere near what she’s presented. So while her friend Streep is getting Oscar nominations every year for her top-notch portrayals of meaty characters, Davis is still looking for better.
“As an artist I want to build the most complicated human being but what I get is the third girl from the left,” she said.
So Davis uses her voice nowadays not to just fill us in on these disparities, but to push for better for other actresses of color as well.
“You’ll have a Shailene Woodley, who’s fabulous. And she may have had 37 magazine covers in one year. 37!” Davis said. “And then you’ll have someone — a young actress of color who’s on her same level of talent and everything. And she may get four. And there is sense in our culture that you have to be happy with that.”
“I always mention what Shonda Rhimes said when she got the Normal Lear Award at the Producers Guild Awards about two or three years ago,” Davis continued. “She held it up and she said, ‘I accept this award because I believe I deserve it. Because when I walk in the room I ask for what I want and I expect to get it. And that’s why I believe I deserve this award. Because Norman Lear was a pioneer, and so am I.’ And that’s revolutionary as a woman, but it’s doubly revolutionary as a woman of color. ‘Cause we have been riding the caboose of the train — we really have. And it’s time enough for that.”