Taraji P. Henson on Wage Disparity: ‘Numbers Don’t Add Up’

Taraji P. Henson on Wage Disparity: ‘Numbers Don’t Add Up’ : Taraji P. Henson expresses frustration over unequal pay.
In a conversation with Gayle King on SiriusXM, the renowned actress was prompted about speculation regarding her contemplating leaving the entertainment industry.
Taking a moment to collect herself, Henson responded with emotion.

Taraji P. Henson on Wage Disparity: 'Numbers Don't Add Up'

“I’m exhausted from putting in so much effort, showcasing my talent, and yet receiving significantly less compensation,” she shared, wiping her tears. “It’s disheartening to continuously hear my colleagues echo the same sentiments. People remark on how frequently I work, but it’s necessary. The financial calculations just don’t align. As one’s workload increases, so does the team supporting them. This isn’t a solo endeavor; there’s an entire crew reliant on fair compensation.”
During the promotional interview for the film premiering on December 25th, the 53-year-old Henson was joined by co-star Danielle Brooks and director Blitz Bazawule. She highlighted the complexities of actor compensation, emphasizing that even with a $10 million paycheck, significant deductions occur.

“Firstly, remember that half goes to taxes,” Henson explained. “That leaves you with $5 million. Then, consider that your team takes 30% from the gross, not from what remains after taxes. When you break it down, the figures become clearer. Each time I achieve something groundbreaking, it feels like I’m starting from scratch during renegotiations. It’s draining. If I can’t advocate for those following in my footsteps, then what’s my purpose?”

A visibly emotional Henson found solace in Brooks as she conveyed her dismay. Despite her notable roles in films like “Hidden Figures” and her impactful performance on Fox TV’s “Empire,” Henson shared that she frequently hears the narrative that Black actors and narratives “aren’t marketable internationally.”

“I’ve been hearing this throughout my entire career,” Henson expressed. “Over two decades in this industry, and the narrative remains consistent. I witness the resources allocated to other projects, yet when it comes to supporting us, suddenly there’s a budget constraint. I can’t simply nod and accept it anymore. This industry has the potential to consume you entirely. I’m determined not to let it take away my spirit.”

Bazawule reflected on the challenges they faced in ensuring that Henson, Brooks, and Fantasia Barrino were integral to this musical rendition of “The Color Purple.”

“We must be courageous and true to our convictions,” Bazawule emphasized. “For Black women, it often feels as though their contributions are erased. As a director, my role extends beyond filmmaking; it involves offering support, understanding, and advocacy. We’re setting precedents here.”
Additionally, in a recent conversation with Variety on behalf of SAG-AFTRA, Henson mentioned her initial hesitation to join the Oprah Winfrey-produced “The Color Purple” due to compensation concerns, aiming to set a precedent for her fellow female leads.

“If I don’t advocate for change, how can I pave the way for Fantasia, Danielle Brooks, Halle Bailey, and Phylicia Mpasi?” Henson pondered. “Is this journey solely about me? Ultimately, our purpose is to uplift and support one another.”
Henson revealed that she hasn’t received an increase in pay since starring in the 2018 action film, “Proud Mary.”

In 2019, Henson shared with Variety that she was initially presented with a $100,000 offer for her role alongside Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in the 2008 film “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” a performance that secured her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Subsequently, her compensation was adjusted to $150,000, which remained significantly below the anticipated $500,000 she expected for being prominently featured in a high-profile studio production.

“I want to clarify something – my point isn’t that Brad or Cate didn’t deserve their earnings,” Henson emphasized during the interview. “Their established star power undoubtedly attracted audiences, and they rightfully earned their compensation. My request was simply for a half-million. At that juncture during ‘Benjamin Button,’ I hadn’t yet reached a million in value. My audience was still familiarizing themselves with me. We believed we were advocating for equitable treatment based on my standing at that time.”

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