While promoting her upcoming film, the remake of “The Color Purple,” Taraji P. Henson was in an emotional state recently, revealing that she’s considered quitting acting because, she says, Hollywood underpays Black actresses.
In an interview on SiriusXM with Gayle King on Dec. 19, the actress became teary-eyed when asked about her previous comments about a retirement, leading the video to go viral on social media.
“I’m just tired of working so hard, being gracious at what I do [and] getting paid a fraction of the cost,” she said, becoming emotional. “I’m tired of hearing my sisters say the same thing over and over. You get tired. I hear people go, ‘You work a lot.’ Well, I have to,” the actress who has a career spanning more than two decades.
“The math ain’t mathin’,” Henson, whose net worth is an estimated $25 million, said.
Henson was accompanied by the film’s director, Blitz Bazawule, and co-star Danielle Brooks in the interview.
King is close friends with Oprah Winfrey, who starred in the original, “The Color Purple.” Winfrey is also a producer of the latest version, a musical version based on the Broadway show.
The topic of her retirement came from an interview Henson had with The Hollywood Reporter, published on Dec. 12, when she was retelling how she was auditioned for “The Color Purple”role.
Despite securing a leading part with assurance from the director, Henson revealed that each role she took on posed challenges that nearly led her to give up.
“I’ve been fighting tooth and nail every project to get that same freaking quote,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “I’ve tried twice to walk away. But I can’t, because if I do, how does that help the ones coming up behind me?”
Color Purple Drama
Due to Winfrey’s role as the film’s executive producer, rumors circulated that she and Henson were secretly feuding over her less-than-desirable pay for the role.
However, Henson, following her viral interview, took the time to thank Winfrey on Instagram, clarifying she has no gripe with the OWN boss.
“Ms. OPRAH has been nothing less than a steady and solid beacon of light to ALL OF THE CAST of The Color Purple!!! She has provided ENCOURAGEMENT, GUIDANCE and UNWAVERING SUPPORT to us all. She told me personally to reach out to her for ANYTHING I needed, and I did! It took ONE CALL… ONE CONVERSATION… and ONE DECISION MAKING BLACK WOMAN to make me feel heard,” Henson said.
Pay Grade Battle
Henson had previously discussed the entertainment industry lowballing her. In a 2019 Variety article, she shared her experience of clearing $40,000 for a role that earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
In the movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” released on Christmas 2008 and starring Brad Pitt, Henson was listed as the third actress on the credit roll. Despite her role, she was offered a meager $100,000. Attempting to renegotiate for $500,000 in the David Fincher romantic drama, she only secured a subtle increase to $150,000.
According to Forbes, she claimed the effective pay was just $40,000 after taxes and team expenses.
Speaking of her team, Henson recently claimed she fired her entire team for not capitalizing on her “Empire” success is making the rounds on social media. The drama aired from 2015 until 2020, and Henson accused her team of not getting her more roles and endorsements.
It was only when Henson began working with Tyler Perry that she started earning $500,000 for a role, citing his recognition of her significance in the industry.
“I was asking for half a million,” Henson said. “I didn’t get paid that until I did my first Tyler Perry film. He was the first person that gave — that broke the standard that I was getting paid for films, and he gave me $500,000.”
In response to her experience of pay disparities, fellow Black actress Gabrielle Union, whose work in the entertainment industry mirrors Henson’s, echoes similar sentiments.
“Not a damn lie told. Not. A. Damn. Lie. We go TO BAT for the next generation and hell even our own generation and above. We don’t hesitate to be the change that we all need to see AND it takes a toll on your mind, health, soul, and career if we’re keepn it 100 (sic),” Union posted on her X, formerly known as Twitter.
Others on social media referenced Black actress and comedian Mo’Nique, who was interviewed by Don Lemon in 2015. The Academy Award-winning actress informed Lemon that she wasn’t blackballed for criticizing director Lee Daniels, but turned down offers due to concerns that accepting low pay would set a detrimental precedent.