Yes, she has won an Oscar, has an Emmy, and has two Tony awards. However, as Mo’Nique can attest to, Tracee Elliss Ross, and maybe even Halle Berry, what does a gold statue mean? But, focusing on Davis specifically, some of the issues we need to address in the Meryl Streep comparison is the diversity or Ms. Davis’ roles and also what her presence does for a film.
To begin, as of now, there hasn’t been any major motion picture Viola Davis has been the star in, meaning not part of an ensemble, like Suicide Squad, that has gone over $100 million. In fact, if you go over her filmography, you’ll find more box office bombs than you’ll find hits. Even if you decide to give her some leniency and bring the ensemble factor in. So, right off the bat, in terms of arguing for more money, there is one problem.
Yet, the issues which may be why Ms. Davis isn’t a big-time box office darling is that her roles lack diversity. This weird claim of being “The Black Meryl Streep” lacks the opportunities we have seen Meryl have. Yes, Ms. Davis may have gotten to be in the same movie as her in Doubt, has done biopics, and things of that nature, but when is the last time you’ve seen Ms. Davis play anything but a character who was in utter misery?
To my recollection, the last time would either be 2013’s Beautiful Creatures or her arc on The United States of Tera. Otherwise, whether we are talking about How To Get Away With Murder, Suicide Squad, self-produced Lila & Eve or the rest of her recent filmography, they are all miserable people trying to make due. Yet with Meryl, you have her playing this high fashion tough as nails boss in The Devil Wears Prada; this vulgar, complete 180 turn character in August Osage County, alongside musicals like Mamma Mia and films which aren’t that noteworthy, or perhaps worth seeing, like Ricki and the Flash.
And I don’t bring all this up in anyway to blame Ms. Davis and make it seem she put herself in this position. After all, from what little we know, it is clear that the reason she has taken probably most of the roles she has had is because, like any actress, Davis wants to work. Not just in terms of having bills to pay but because this is what she loves doing. Hell, and unlike most actresses who learn on the job, she went to school for this!
Yet, let’s also factor in what may have taken her this long to speak up. The #TimesUp movement is certainly a factor, but I also want to bring up a similar point of view noted when it came to Amy Adams demanding better or equal pay. I believe it was during a THR Roundtable when Arrival was a big deal and between her or a commenter, it was noted how uncomfortable she was talking about money. Well, let’s take note, though Adams and Davis don’t have the same origins, both didn’t grow up middle class or something above that. They grew up poor and if you get offered hundreds of thousands, maybe the low millions to do something you love, which can take care of you and your family, how can you say no? Can you imagine the fear of what will happen when you say no?
But, the big picture here is, how can Davis get paid what she is worth? Well, speaking up about it is the first part. For maybe, similar to Taraji P. Henson, someone like Tyler Perry may up what she can quote in future deals. However, I think, and I say this with nothing but respect, all the titles in the world won’t justify a bigger paycheck. Ms. Davis needs a hit in which she is the reason people say they saw that film. Otherwise, she may be highly decorated but, in the mind of a Hollywood exec, it would be hard to justify paying her what we, fans of her, thinks she deserves.