Taraji P. Henson Speaks Out Against Unequal Pay and Conditions in Hollywood — "I'm Just Tired"

Jamie Lerner - Author

Dec. 21 2023, Published 8:33 a.m. ET

Taraji P. Henson in SiriusXM's Town Hall With The Cast Of 'The Color Purple' Hosted By Gayle King at SiriusXM Studios on Dec. 11, 2023
Source: Getty Images

The Gist:

  • Taraji P. Henson contemplates quitting acting due to unfair pay and working conditions in the industry, especially for women and Black individuals.

  • In an emotional interview, she highlights the financial challenges actors face, with substantial expenses and a persistent wage gap, leaving them with less than expected.

  • Frustrated by racial and gender dynamics in Hollywood, Taraji feels undervalued and exhausted by an industry that doesn't fully appreciate her contributions.

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She has been in the industry for over 20 years, but Taraji P. Henson still has yet to fully get her due. A household name, Taraji has starred in many films and television shows, most notably as Cookie Lyon in Empire, Katherine Johnson in Hidden Figures, and many other roles. Now, as she goes on her publicity tour for The Color Purple, Taraji is being honest with her fans about working conditions.

In an interview with Gayle King on Sirius XM radio, Taraji explains that she might quit acting because of unequal working conditions. Now, fans are worried that she really is quitting after her emotional breakdown. So, what’s happening and is she throwing in the towel?

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Taraji P. Henson at a screening event for The Color Purple on Dec. 13, 2023
Source: Getty Images

Taraji P. Henson explained that she might quit acting because of unfair pay and conditions.

On Dec. 20, 2023, Gayle asked Taraji, “I heard that you had the audacity to say you’re thinking about stopping acting! Are you thinking about it?” If Gayle heard this through the rumor mill, it could be a serious consideration of Taraji’s. As Taraji thinks for a long moment, she responds emotionally.

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She explains, “I’m just tired of working so hard, being gracious at what I do, getting paid a fraction of the cost. 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 mathin.’ And when you start working a lot, you have a team. Big bills come with what we do.”

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Many of us might think actors and A-list celebs have it easy. They make millions of dollars per project, but Taraji explains that’s not always the case. Most of the money they make goes to expenses needed to keep up their appearance and reputation. “We don’t do this alone. The fact that we’re up here, there’s a whole entire team behind us. They have to get paid.”

“So when you hear someone say, ‘Oh, such-and-such made $10 million,’ that didn’t make it to their account,” Taraji says. “Know that off the top, Uncle Sam is getting 50 percent. So do the math, now we have $5 million. Your team is getting 30 percent of whatever you make off of what you gross, not after what Uncle Sam took. Now, do the math.”

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The Color Purple cast
Source: Getty Images

That may seem like $2 million, but to keep up appearances, celebrities have to spend money on luxury items, homes, and other lifestyle items, as well as their families, so they aren't left with as much as we might have thought. “I’m only human,” Taraji reminds us. “It seems every time I do something, I 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 breaks down.

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If we were in Taraji’s position, we’d be tired too! She became the first Black actor to win the Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series in 2015 for her role in Empire. She advocates for equality across race and gender so much that President Biden appointed her to the Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities in 2022.

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“It wears on you, you know?” she continues. “Because 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?” As Taraji gets emotional with her co-star, Danielle Brooks, who’s following in her footsteps, Taraji adds, “And then they tell me we don’t translate overseas. I’m tired of hearing that my entire career, 20+ years in the game. And I hear the same thing.”

A lot of Taraji’s frustration comes down to both racial and gender dynamics in Hollywood, both of which are heavily weighted toward the success of white men. Taraji doesn’t want to quit acting, but she’s tired of being part of an industry that doesn’t appreciate her, and that continues to keep her at the bottom despite what she has accomplished.

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How about instead of quitting, the industry finally appreciates Black women who have made television and movies better? How about paying Taraji the same as white men in the same position as her? If that happened, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

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