Taraji P. Henson Tearfully Laments Facing Pay Inequality as a Black Actress: 'I'm Just Tired of Working So Hard'

Henson plays Shug Avery in the musical adaptation of 'The Color Purple.'

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Taraji P. Henson is "tired" of taking on roles that don't pay her enough.

In a recent SiriusXM interview with Gayle King, Henson sat down with The Color Purple director Blitz Bazawule and actress Danielle Brooks, when she was asked whether she still plans to give up acting.

"I'm just tired of working so hard, being gracious at what I do, getting paid a fraction of the cost," a tearful Henson said. “I’m tired of hearing my sisters say the same thing over and over. You get tired."

Despite having critically acclaimed roles in films like Hidden Figures, Hustle & Flow and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Henson says she hasn't seen much financial support in taking on a lot of gigs. "I hear people go, ‘You work a lot!’ I have to. The math ain’t mathin’," she said. "And when you start working a lot, you know, you have a team. Big bills come with what we do; 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.”

She disputed claims that although an actor makes $10 million on paper, "That didn't make it to their account."

"Off the top – Uncle Sam is getting 50 percent," she continued. "So do the math, now we have 5 million. Your team is getting 30 percent, or whatever your team is [getting] off of what you grossed, not after what Uncle Sam took. Now do the math."

"I'm only human and it seems every time I do something and 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 tired," she continued. "It wears on you. Because what does that mean? What is that telling you?"

Henson, who plays Shug Avery in the musical adaptation of The Color Purple, had similar thoughts on a 2021 guest appearance on The Real, where she explained receiving less than $50,000 for Benjamin Button although the net gross of her total check was $140,000.

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"You have twelve months in a year to make your money, right? If you do a film for five months that takes you off the market for anything else or any other kind of coin until you’re done with that show,” she told The Real co-hosts.

Henson added that her consistent work ethic was also dependent on raising her son, Marcell Johnson.

“At the time my son’s school tuition, because he was in high school at Buckley, was $30,000. I chose my son’s education over fancy cars and all those things, and so literally for five months that’s what I made, his tuition,” she said. “Now what? I gotta hit the pavement again and I gotta scrounge up another check, so that is how that works.”

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