Taraji P. Henson admitted that she almost didn’t accept her role in The Color Purple due to a pay disparity.
“I almost had to walk away from The Color Purple,” Henson, 53, said in a Tuesday, December 19, live interview for the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, which earned gasps from the audience. “Yes, ma’am. … If I don’t take a stand, how am I making it easy for Fantasia [Barrino] and Danielle [Brooks] and Halle [Bailey] and Phylicia [Pearl Mpasi]? Why am I doing this, if it’s all just for me?”
While Henson didn’t share details about the discrepancy in her offer, she noted that she hadn’t received a “raise” since she starred in the 2018 film Proud Mary.
“I’m getting really tired of Black women having the same story, it’s breaking my heart,” she admitted. “It’s like every time you achieve something really incredible, it’s almost like the industry looks at it like a fluke.”
Henson confessed that as a Black woman in Hollywood, she finds herself negotiating just to match what she made on a previous project. The actress confessed that the frustrating cycle of the industry has made her hit a breaking point.
“I’m getting to a point where I just want to be 10 toes down on an island somewhere. Because [of] the fight as a Black woman. We do it with so much grace and get paid half the price of what we’re worth and that becomes difficult,” she said on Tuesday. “And it’s a slap in my face when people go, ‘Oh, you work all the time!’ Well, bitch, I have to cause the math ain’t mathing.”
Henson joked she wishes she could just do two movies a year and spend the rest of her time relaxing, but she can’t afford that luxury since she has to support her family as well as her team.
“So, because you see me working so much, I got to. Big bills come with this s–t we do,” she explained. “I don’t do this alone, it takes a team and they want to get paid for their work, as they should.”
The Oscar nominee recalled an early time in her career when she asked for $500,000 for her role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. She was initially offered $100,000 but ultimately walked away with $150,000.
“I wasn’t trying to take anything from Brad Pitt or Cate Blanchett, they deserve to earn what they get because they worked their asses off for it,” Henson shared. “I too worked my ass off and at the time I couldn’t say no, I didn’t have any power.”
Henson went on to say that she thought about the “bigger picture” and decided to take the smaller check. She noted that she ultimately drew inspiration from the pay struggle as she played Queenie in the 2008 film, which earned her her first Oscar nomination.