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Award-Winning Actress Taraji P. Henson Breaks Down Crying Over Hollywood Pay: The Math Ain’t Mathin’

Film and TV star Taraji P. Henson couldn’t hold back tears during a recent SiriusXM interview with Gayle King. As she discussed her new film, “The Color Purple,” King asked her about rumors that she was contemplating quitting acting. Her response was emotional and raw, revealing the painful reality of pay disparities in Hollywood that continue to plague even the most accomplished Black actors.

“I’m just tired of working so hard, being gracious at what I do [and] getting paid a fraction of the cost,” the Oscar and Emmy-nominated actor 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.”

Henson went on to explain the breakdown of how salaries are divided before they reach an actor’s bank account, Variety reported.

“When you hear someone go, ‘Such and such made $10 million,’ that didn’t make it to their account,” Henson exlained. “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 f**k am I doing?”

Henson started to cry, and she explained that despite her multiple successes, she still gets told there’s not a lot of money in the budget 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.”

This isn’t the first time the actress has spoken out about pay inequality in Hollywood. She told Variety 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 negotiated her salary to $150,000, but that was far below the $500,000 she was expecting to make as the third-billed actor in the deep-budgeted movie. And in the end, she said she made $40,000. Her salary was reportedly less than 2 percent of what Pitt made.

“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.”

She continued, “I asked for half a million. That’s it. 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.”

Taraji P. Henson, screenshot, SiriusXM, Dec. 20, 2023

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