Viola Davis Spoke Out About Unequal Opportunity and Compensation for Women of Color in Hollywood

“We get paid probably a tenth of what a Caucasian woman gets.”

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In conversation with Tina Brown as part of the Women in the World salon in Los Angeles this week, Tony-, Emmy-, and Oscar-winner Viola Davis spoke honestly and passionately about the unequal opportunities and compensation for women of color in Hollywood. Contrasting the gender pay gap and the racial pay gap, Davis said, “We won’t talk about gender inequality of pay. Because a lot of the women who’ve stepped forward—and I stand in solidarity with them, okay?—what they are getting paid, which is half of what a man is getting paid…well, we get probably a tenth of what of what a Caucasian woman gets. And I’m number one on the call sheet. And then I go in, and I have to hustle for my worth.”

The Juilliard-trained Davis, noting her decades of experience across film, television, and the stage, compared her path to those of Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Sigourney Weaver. “And yet I am nowhere near them, not as far as money, not as far as job opportunities, nowhere close to it. And yet I have to constantly get on that phone—and I have fabulous agents, by the way, they are getting it—but I have to get on that phone.”

Davis’s words also echoed her acceptance speech at the 2015 Emmy Awards, when she became the first black woman to win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama for her work on How to Get Away with Murder. “‘In my mind, I see a line. And over that line I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.’ That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something. The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there,” she said at the time, before thanking her coworkers and other black women, including Halle Berry and Gabrielle Union, who have helped take her “over that line.”

Even though Davis has nabbed an Oscar (for her role in 2016’s Fences) since that powerful speech, it seems that the industry still has work to do when it comes to backing up on-screen diversity with real-life paychecks and opportunities. Or, as Davis so perfectly put it to Brown this week, “You pay me what I’m worth. You give me what I’m worth.”

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