Taraji P. Henson was visibly moved as she opened up about the idea of stepping away from acting, revealing her frustration with the unfair pay she has experienced. She highlighted the personal toll that the industry can exact, describing it as exploitative.

By Zack Sharf

Taraji P. Henson broke down in tears during a SiriusXM interview with Gayle King while promoting her new film, “The Color Purple.”

King asked the Oscar and Emmy-nominated actor if she was still thinking about quitting acting, which King had heard rumours of Henson previously saying. Henson responded by revealing she has hit her breaking point in Hollywood since she continues to be underpaid.

“I’m just tired of working so hard, being gracious at what I do [and] getting paid a fraction of the cost,” Henson said. “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 math ain’t math-ing. When you start working a lot, you have a team. Big bills come with what we do. We don’t do this alone. It’s a whole team behind us. They have to get paid.”

“When you hear someone go, ‘Such and such made $10 million,’ that didn’t make it to their account,” Henson continued. “Off the top, Uncle Sam is getting 50%. Now have $5 million. Your team is getting 30% of what you gross, not after what Uncle Sam took. Now do the math. I’m only human.

“Every time I do something and break another glass ceiling, when it’s time to renegotiate I’m at the bottom again like I never did what I just did, and I’m tired. I’m tired. It wears on you. What does that mean? What is that telling me? If I can’t fight for them coming up behind me then what the fuck am I doing?”

Henson was nearly sobbing at this point in the interview. She went on to explain that despite her various successes, she still gets told there’s not a lot of money on the table because Black actors and stories “don’t translate overseas,” among other excuses.

“I’m tired hearing of that my entire career,” Henson said. “Twenty-plus years in the game and I hear the same thing and I see what you do for another production but when it’s time to go to bat for us they don’t have enough money. And I’m just supposed to smile and grin and bear it. Enough is enough! That’s why I have other [brands] because this industry, if you let it, it will steal your soul. I refuse to let that happen.”

Henson’s The Color Purple director Blitz Bazawule backed up her claim, sharing that he had to fight for all of his leading actors to be cast in the film despite their various successes. He said “it was like you were never here” when he brought up their names to the studio.

“The fact that each one of you had to audition for this role…roles that were second nature for you…roles that no one should even question,” Bazawule said.

Prior to the SiriusXM interview, Henson spoke with Variety’s Angelique Jackson for a SAG-AFTRA discussion and revealed that she nearly turned down The Color Purple over pay reasons in order to set an example for her female co-stars. She revealed she hasn’t seen a raise in her pay income since 2018’s Proud Mary, an action movie she had the lead role in.

“If I don’t take a stand, how am I making it easier for Fantasia? For Danielle [Brooks]?” Henson said. “Why am I doing this? We are to service each other.”

Henson has often been outspoken about not being paid fairly in Hollywood. She told Variety back in 2019 that she initially was offered $100,000 to star opposite Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” a role which earned her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.

Henson was able to bump up the salary to $150,000, but that was far below the $500,000 she was expecting to make as the third-billed actor in a Fincher-directed studio movie.

“I want to make this very clear – I’m not saying that Brad or Cate shouldn’t have gotten what they got,” Henson said at the time.

“They put asses in seats, so give them their money. They deserve it. I’m not saying they shouldn’t get what they’re getting. I was just asking for half a million – that’s all. That’s it. When I was doing ‘Benjamin Button,’ I wasn’t worth a million yet. My audience was still getting to know me. We thought we were asking for what was fair for me, at the time.”

“I asked for half a million. That’s it,” Henson added. “And they gave me $100,000. Does that make sense? I’m number three on the call sheet. Does that make sense to you? All I was asking was $500,000 – that’s all we were asking for.”

Henson’s emotional SiriusXM interview was later shared to X (formerly Twitter) by A Black Lady Sketch Show creator Robin Thede, who noted that Henson was “telling the absolute truth.”

“70-80% of GROSS income is gone off top for taxes & commissions (agents, managers, lawyers),” Thede wrote. “And for those who pay other employees as well? Babyyyy! The math ain’t math-ing! And I know – you’re like $10M minus $8M is still $2M…Yes that’s true. However, $10M is VERY RARE! Most of your fave Black actresses make about $250k-$500k for STARRING in movies (so $50-$100k net) and might only get ONE project a year.” – variety.com

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