Viola Davis on Hollywood: ‘If I’m a Black Meryl Streep, Then ‘Pay Me What I’m Worth’

Viola Davis Widows Casting
Viola Davis at the 89th Annual Academy Awards - Press Room held at the Hollywood and Highland Center in Hollywood, USA on February 26, 2017. (Tinseltown /

Viola Davis is not backing down.

The award-winning actress sat down with famed journalist Tina Brown for the Women in the World Salon event in Los Angeles Tuesday night, where she discussed her feelings on being underpaid in Hollywood and overlooked by casting directors and producers during her 30-year career.

“I have a career that’s probably comparable to Meryl StreepJulianne MooreSigourney Weaver,” said the actress and Juilliard graduate. “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.”

While movie critics and fans have compared her to A-list stars, Davis said her compensation has not been comparable to her white co-stars.

“People say, ‘You’re a black Meryl Streep … We love you. There is no one like you,” she explained. “OK, then if there’s no one like me, you think I’m that you pay me what I’m worth.”

Viola Davis also said she’s been disappointed with the roles available to her. “As an artist, I want to build the most complicated human being but what I get is the third girl from the left,” the How to Get Away With Murder star explained.

Davis said after years of working in the film industry, she got tired of trying to prove herself.

“It’s gotten to the point [where] I’m no longer doing that,” she said. “I’m not hustling for my worth. I’m worthy. When I came out of my mom’s womb, I came in worthy.”

She went on to give an amazing advice to aspiring actors of color to never settle. “You’ll have a Shailene Woodley, who’s fabulous. And she may have had 37 magazine covers in one year. 37! 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 a sense in our culture that you have to be happy with that,” she explained.

“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,” she 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.”

That said, Davis does not always feel empowered. Speaking about growing up in poverty in Rhode Island, she said, “The getting out is precarious,” adding, “Emotionally I did not get out.”

Viola Davis was raised in an abusive, alcoholic father in a rat-infested house, she said, “I was a rung lower than poor. People see poverty as just a financial state. Poverty seeps into your mind, it seeps into your spirit, because it has side effects.”


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