Taraji P. Henson says she has been underpaid for the duration of her career. The actor is "tired" of it to the point that she may stop acting altogether.
"The Color Purple" star cried tears of exhaustion and frustration while further explaining the considerations that go into her potential decision to Gayle King for Sirius XM. Clips of her are going viral on social media, prompting stars like Gabrielle Union and Robin Thede to add to the decades-long conversation of racial pay disparities that Henson's comments have resurfaced.
Henson, a Howard University graduate, Golden Globe winner and Oscar and Emmy nominee known for starring in “Empire,” “Hidden Figures” and “Think Like A Man,” said in the joint interview with co-star Danielle Brooks and director Blitz Bazawule that she has to nearly overwork herself to turn a profit as an actor who is Black when others in the field do not have the same hurdles.
“I’m just tired of working so hard, being gracious at what I do, getting paid a fraction of the cost," she said when asked if she's considering no longer acting.
“I’m tired of hearing my sisters say the same thing over and over,” she said. "You get tired. I hear people go, ‘You work a lot.’ I have to. The math ain’t mathing. And when you start working a lot, you have teams. Big bills come with what we do. We don’t do this alone. It’s a whole entire team behind us. They have to get paid.”
Henson said 80% of her gross pay goes to paying her team and her taxes. Actors' payroll usually includes an agent, make-up artist, hairstylist, publicist, social media manager, stylist and sometimes other roles (manager, accountant, lawyer, wig maker, etc).
"So, I'm only human," she said of the difficulty in seeing what she's left with after all the work she's put in. That’s why she started her eponymous-named hair care line and mental health foundation for additional streams of income, she said.
"It seems 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 just tired," she said. "I'm tired."
Union reshared a clip of what Henson said on Twitter with the caption: "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 u @tarajiphenson."
Thede did a seven-tweet thread breaking down what Henson said and supporting her.
"Do the math of all of it and it’s often still living check to check and not creating generational wealth," Thede wrote. "Especially living in LA/NY. All the while watching non-Black actors get paid WAY more."
Henson has previously said that she has to “continuously prove” that she is “bankable." It wasn’t until she worked on her first movie with Tyler Perry, “I Can Do Bad All By Myself” in 2009, that she got her “first real quote in Hollywood" at $500,000, she said.
The pay disparity along racial and gender lines is best seen with a few key examples: Each of the six core cast members of “Friends” made $1 million per episode for its 10th and final season in 2004. It should be noted that its finale attracted more than 52.5 million viewers, making it the fourth biggest audience ever for the end of a series at the time, per the New York Times. Years later, in 2021, Angela Bassett became the highest paid Black woman actor on TV at $450,000 per episode of “9-1-1,” entering its seventh season, Deadline reported. On the film side, Mo’Nique has said she was paid $50,000 for her lead role in “Precious,” which grossed $63.6 million in the worldwide box office and won two Oscars, one of which went to Mo'Nique for best supporting actress. Additionally, James Earl Jones said he was paid $7,000 for voicing Darth Vader in the original 1977 “Star Wars” movie, which grossed $775.4 million in the worldwide box office and won six Oscars, per IMDB.
Henson said the lowballing prompts the question: "What does that mean? What is it telling me?"
Brooks repeated the question, asking for herself.
"And if I can't fight for them coming up behind me," Henson said, "Then what the f--- am I doing?"
Henson said Hollywood studios and producers "play" like they don't have the money to cough up for her or other Black-led projects, and she finds it disrespectful.
"They tell me we don't translate overseas," she said. "I'm tired of hearing that my entire career, 20-plus years in the game, and I hear the same thing. And I see what you do for another production and when it's time for us to go to bat, you don't have any money. They play in your face and I'm just supposed to smile and grin and bear it and just keep (on). Enough is enough."
Henson said what will not happen, though, is letting this industry get the best of her for as long as she's in it.
"I have other things because this industry, if you let it, it'll steal your soul," she said. "But I refuse to let that happen."