Taraji P. Henson Breaks Down Over Her Fight for Equal Pay in Hollywood: ‘You Get Tired’

Taraji P. Henson breaks down while discussing pay disparity in Hollywood. (Credit: YouTube/SiriusXM)

Taraji P. Henson says she continues to fight for equal pay in Hollywood, even after starring on a hit TV series and in award-winning films.

The Empire alum will soon appear on the big screen as Shug Avery in The Color Purple remake.

But in a new interview on Gayle King’s SiriusXM show, Henson broke down in tears when she was asked about rumors she’s considered giving up on acting.

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

Henson, 53, played Cookie Lyon for six seasons on music drama series, Empire. She’s also had roles on the big screen in the Oscar-winning films Hustle & Flow (2005) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), in addition to parts in The Karate Kid (2010), Think Like a Man (2012), Hidden Figures (2016), and What Men Want (2019).

Related StoryTaraji P. Henson Says Tyler Perry Was First Person to Pay Her a ‘Fair Wage’

Yet Henson said she still isn’t paid what she thinks she deserves.

“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 just tired,” Henson said through tears. “It wears on you, you know, ’cause what does that mean? What does that tell me?”

Henson noted that actors have to pay teams — which often include an agent, manager, publicist, hairstylist, and makeup artist. Plus, the IRS has to be paid.

“Know that off the top, Uncle Sam is getting 50 percent. Your team is getting 30 percent of whatever you gross. Now do the math,” she said.

She added that Black women are undervalued in the entertainment industry.

“I’m tired of hearing my sisters saying the same thing over and over,” she stated. “I hear people go, ‘You work a lot.’ I have to. The math ain’t mathing.”

She appeared on the SiriusXM show with The Color Purple director Blitz Bazawule and her co-star Danielle Brooks. Henson pointed to Brooks, 34, and said through tears, “If I can’t fight for them coming up behind me, then what the f–k am I doing?”

In a 2022 commencement speech at her alma mater, Howard University, Henson said she was only paid $150,000 for her Oscar-nominated role as Queenie in The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. She starred alongside Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett.

Yet she said she didn’t get fair pay until she appeared in the Tyler Perry film I Can Do Bad All By Myself (2009).

“He was the first to give me a fair wage to star in his movie. And it’s because of him, not an Oscar, that I never had to take another movie project at the rock bottom,” Henson said about Perry.

The actress is not alone in calling out Hollywood for allegedly undervaluing Black actors.

Earlier this month, her former Empire co-star Terrence Howard held a news conference in Los Angeles to announce he was suing his former agents at the powerful Creative Artists Agency (CAA), for alleged conflict of interest and urging him to accept a salary lower than “white actors that are comparable” in experience and accolades.

“When we began, I think I was being paid $125 [thousand] an episode,” Howard said. “At the very height, all I was able to get, in year six, was $325,000 an episode, even though I wrote 10-15 songs… never was given a producer’s position even though I redirected and rewrote most of those scenes, and helped all of those actors and acted in the capacity of the producer.”

As a comparison, the actor’s attorneys said Jon Hamm of Mad Men; Kevin Spacey of House of Cards; and Jim Parsons from The Big Bang Theory — who are all white — were paid much more than Howard. In 2017, Forbes reported Parsons received $1 million per episode on The Big Bang Theory.

“It’s time for change,” Howard said.