Viola Davis's stirring meditation on discrimination and pay inequity in the entertainment industry still rings true several years later. In February 2018, the actress was interviewed by veteran journalist Tina Brown at a Los Angeles event hosted by Women in the World, a recently shuttered organisation that stressed women in leadership. Though the conversation was widely covered at the time, a particularly powerful moment is once again making the rounds after being shared by various activists and public figures, including Gabrielle Union.
"I have to hustle for my worth. That's what I feel like I'm doing," Viola said in the clip shown above. "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."
"Pay me what I'm worth."
Viola went on to say that, despite her "fabulous" and understanding agents, she still finds herself talking to executives on the phone and hearing them say, "You're a Black Meryl Streep. You are, and we love you. We love you. There is no one like you." Viola added, "OK, then if there is no one like me — you think I'm that — you pay me what I'm worth. You give me what I'm worth."
Viola's words echo the demands recently put forth by the Hollywood 4 Black Lives open letter drafted by Kendrick Sampson and his BLD PWR grassroots initiative. The letter called on the industry to rectify systemic issues, including pay disparities, a lack of representation at the leadership level, and the devaluation of Black-led projects. Viola was among the more than 300 prominent Black actors, artists, and executives who signed the letter.