The 'How to Get Away with Murder' star spit some truth about what it's like to be both Black and a woman in Hollywood during an interview.
Hollywood has had its reckoning with its own racism multiple times in the recent past. Whether it was Scarlett Johanson playing a character who was intended to be Asian or the whole #OscarsSoWhite criticism, the industry has been called out for some serious issues when it comes to how it treats actors of color. When these issues are compounded with the intersections of gender, these issues only become more exacerbated—at least for those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. That is to say that when actresses win, what really happens in Hollywood is that white actresses win. No one pointed this out better than Viola Davis, the first Black actress to receive the Triple Crown of Acting: an Academy Award, an Emmy Award, and not one but two Tony Awards.
As folks continue to be deeply embroiled in discourse about racial justice all over the country and worldwide, Davis' personal experiences highlight the systemic problems that Black women in particular face. The How to Get Away With Murder star explained in a 2018 interview for Women in the World that though she was equally if not more qualified than her white counterparts, she was never compensated her worth. "I got the Emmy, I got the Oscar, I got the two Tonys," she listed. "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," Davis continued. "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." Let's admit it—when you think of a top actress, it is quite unlikely that Viola Davis comes to mind unless you have rid yourself of years of conditioning and internalization. Right now, a simple Google search for "top Hollywood actresses" shows me a sea of whiteness: Jennifer Lawrence, Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, and an almost neverending list of more White names before I see Davis, right next to Halle Berry, Penelope Cruz, and Salma Hayek. Hollywood's "token" actresses of color.
The Doubt star then shared a painful conversation she has probably had to have far too many times. She said, "I have to get on that phone and people say, 'You're a Black Meryl Streep.'" Why do Black actresses have to conform to whiteness in order to be held in high regard? And when was the last time someone referred to a white actress as a Black anyone? You don't really hear "Oh, that Natalie Portman is like a white Taraji P. Henson. "'There is no one like you,'' Davis goes on. "Okay, then if there's no one like me, you think I'm that, you pay me what I'm worth. You give me what I'm worth." Of course, you could hear people rooting and clapping in the audience after she dropped that powerful statement.
In a 2019 Forbes article, senior contributor Bonnie Chiu argued that the race was basically invisible in conversations about the gender pay gap. One poll cited in her news story displayed that only 34% of white women believed that non-white women were paid less than white women for doing similar work. Katherine W. Phillips, a professor at Columbia Business School who studies diversity, noted, "Even though white women experience a lack of privilege in one dimension, they don’t necessarily understand that they do have privilege in another dimension—which is being white." The intersections of our privileges are where we decide if we actually care about "minority" representation and the compensation women of color, particularly Black women, receive. Viola Davis may be just one woman, but her experience is not unique. And it shouldn't be that way.