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Clip of Viola Davis talking about being called 'a Black Meryl Streep' goes viral again

In a 2018 video, the actress recounts the struggle of working in a business that knows her value but still doesn’t pay her what she’s worth.
Viola Davis
Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis calls out Hollywood’s hypocrisy when it comes to compensating Black actresses, and she recalls being called “a Black Meryl Streep,” in a viral clip from 2018.Kevin Winter / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Fans of Viola Davis have long known the actress has a way with words — whether she’s tackling the topics of aging, suffering or the inequities that are all too common for Black actresses in Tinseltown.

It’s that latter subject that she’s making headlines for once again, even though her words are over two years old. But as a recently resurfaced viral video proves, time has done nothing to dull the powerful points she brought up at a 2018 Women in the World event.

The discussion started around the gender pay gap in Hollywood, which Davis quickly pointed out is a very different gap for Black women than it is for white women.

“What they’re getting paid, which is half of what a man is getting paid … well, we get probably a tenth of what a Caucasian woman gets, and I’m No. 1 on the call sheet.”

That’s what the 54-year-old star finds the most frustrating — she’s made it by any metric. She’s at the top of the industry with decades in the entertainment business. But she doesn’t see the rewards that typically come with that status.

“I had a friend who said, ‘Yeah, but Viola, your career is better than my career.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but you can’t compare me to you, because, once again, 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 and I’ve done film. I’ve done all of it.”

However, she’s not getting the same parts or compensation as her peers.

“I have a career that’s probably comparable to Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Sigourney Weaver,” she explained. “They all came out of Yale; they came out of Julliard; 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.”

All too often, what she gets instead is lip service, with clunky comments meant to be flattering but instead come off as insulting, only further illustrating the problem.

“People say, ‘You’re a Black Meryl Streep. You are, and we love you! We love you. There is no one like you,’” she recalled hearing from executives. “OK, then if there is no one like me, if you think I’m that, you pay me what I’m worth. You give me what I’m worth!”

Because as the star explained during a 2016 visit to TODAY, it’s all about getting a truly equal opportunity.

"I always say that Meryl Streep would not be Meryl Streep without 'Sophie's Choice,' without 'Kramer vs. Kramer,' without 'Devil Wears Prada,’” she said. “You can't be a Meryl Streep if you’re the third girl from the left in the narrative with two scenes."