Forbes published its list of 2020 highest-paid actresses recently, and Viola Davis is the only Black actress to feature on the list. According to the list in which she was placed 10th, the “How to Get Away with Murder” actress earned $15.5 million under the year in review.
The top ten actresses on the list released this October include Sofia Vergara ($43 million), Angelina Jolie ($35.5 million), Gal Gadot ($31.5 million), Melissa McCarthy ($25 million), Meryl Streep ($24 million), Emily Blunt ($22.5 million), Nicole Kidman ($22 million), Ellen Pompeo ($19 million), Elisabeth Moss ($16 million) and Davis ($15.5).
This is the first time Davis made the list mainly due to her earnings from her roles as Annalise Keating on “How to Get Away with Murder” and Ma Rainey in Netflix’s film adaption of the August Wilson play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”.
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The methodology used by Forbes to arrive at the earnings of the actresses includes data from Nielsen, Box Office Mojo and IMDB, as well as interviews with industry insiders. “All figures are pretax; fees for agents, managers and lawyers (generally 10%, 15% and 5% respectively) are not deducted,” it noted.
The fact that Davis is the only Black person on the list raises concerns about production companies not paying the current crop of Black actresses enough to make it on lists such as this.
It is these rankings that will influence their future jobs and boost their career, so a second look must be given to their condition, industry watchers have said.
It is unfortunate that even the Black women who are believed to have more opportunities in acting are not making as much as their white counterparts.
Davis became a national sensation in the last decade after being on the margins for years. She is the first Black female actress to receive an Emmy award in 2015 for her lead role in “How to Get Away with Murder”. Similarly, in 2017, she won an Oscar award for her supporting role as Rose Maxson in Fences.
In 2020, The New York Times ranked her ninth on its list of “The 25 Greatest Actors of the 21st Century.” And in 2012 and 2017, The Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
The fifth of six children, Davis struggled through life to make it to where she is now. Growing up, she would arrive in school unkempt or stinking of urine. At a point, her confidence was shattered. When I was younger,” said Davis, “I did not exert my voice because I did not feel worthy of having a voice.”
However, through the support of her mom and sisters, she rediscovered herself. “[They] looked at me and said I was pretty,” she told Vanityfair. “Who’s telling a dark-skinned girl that she’s pretty? Nobody says it. I’m telling you, Sonia, nobody says it. The dark-skinned Black woman’s voice is so steeped in slavery and our history.
“If we did speak up, it would cost us our lives. Somewhere in my cellular memory was still that feeling—that I do not have the right to speak up about how I’m being treated, that somehow I deserve it.”
“I did not find my worth on my own.”
Davis graduated from Rhode Island College in 1988 and later went to Juilliard, one of the world’s leading performing arts education. She is married to actor Julius Tennon. She is stepmother to Tennon’s children from a previous relationship. Also, the couple in 2011 adopted an infant daughter.