"Listen to her. Believe her."
Actress Michelle Williams earned a standing ovation for her acceptance speech at the 2019 Emmy Awards, both in the Microsoft Theater in L.A. and among viewers online.
As she accepted her first Emmy award for Lead Actress in a Limited Series/Movie for her role in FX's "Fosse/Verdon," she praised the studios who produced the show for supporting her in everything she needed for the role—including making sure she was paid equitably.
"I see this as an acknowledgment of what is possible when a woman is trusted to discern her own needs, feel safe enough to voice them, and respected enough that they'll be heard," she said.
She explained how being provided what she needed in order to do her job empowered her to do it well. "When I asked for more dance classes, I heard 'yes,'" she said. "More voice lessons, 'yes.' A different wig, a pair of fake teeth not made out of rubber, 'yes.'"
"All of these things, they require effort and they cost more money," she said. "But my bosses never presumed to know better than I did about what I needed in order to do my job and honor Gwen Verdon."
They also supported her with equal pay, she said, a shout out that prompted nods and cheers from her fellow actors and actresses.
"And so I want to say, thank you so much to FX and to Fox 21 studios for supporting me completely and for paying me equally because they understood that when you put value into a person, it empowers that person to get in touch with their own inherent value. And then where do they put that value? They put it into their work. And so the next time a woman, and especially a woman of color—because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white, male counterpart—tells you what she needs in order to do her job, listen to her. Believe her. Because one day she might stand in front of you and say thank you for allowing her to succeed because of her workplace environment and not in spite of it."
The gender pay gap in Hollywood has been well-documented. A 2016 Forbes article broke it down in detail, sharing how female stars are consistently paid less than male stars.
"The earnings disparity is even worse for women of color," the article states. "While, on average, women in this country make an average of 78% of their male counterparts, African American and Native American women make 64 cents and 59 cents, respectively, for every dollar made by white men, and Hispanic women earn just 56 cents to a white man's dollar."
Statistics are naturally varied, as studies vary in how they determine pay equity. Some studies show a smaller gap, while others show larger ones. But one thing is clear: It doesn't seem to be getting better. For example, a 2018 study showed that women across the board earn 49 cents for every dollar men earn. A more recent Forbes article states that the top 10 highest paid actresses made just 30 cents on the dollar compared to the top 10 highest paid actors.
It's easy to point to the high salaries of famous people and ask why they would ever complain. But inequity is inequity, regardless of industry. Good for Michelle Williams for celebrating her positive experience with this show and imploring other studios to follow that example.
Watch her speech here: