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

Taraji P. Henson at the World premiere of 'Ralph Breaks The Internet' held at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, USA on November 5, 2018. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Taraji P. Henson delivered a message about persevering and knowing your worth to the 2022 graduating class at her alma mater, Howard University.

In addition to delivering the commencement address over the weekend, the Empire actress was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters prior to making her remarks, according to the university’s blog.

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After joking about how people should address her by her “righteous name,” Henson talked about facing challenges, being undervalued and continuing to press on.

“The truth is, you have been hurt. You’ve had to overcome, you’ve had to persevere — you’ve triumphed in circumstances that would have taken out lesser beings and you’re still here because of God’s grace,” Henson told the graduates.

“The world would never know what you’ve been through unless you’ve told them, because class of 2022, you don’t look like what you’ve been through,” she continued.

She mentioned her time at Howard as a drama major and spoke about the importance of mental health and the audition process for the role of Queenie in the critically acclaimed 2008 film The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.

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Taraji P Henson gave the commencement speech at Howard University, on Saturday, May 7, 2022. (Credit: YouTube/Howard University)
Henson delivered the commencement speech at Howard University, on Saturday, May 7, 2022. (Credit: YouTube/Howard U.)

Henson said after she landed the role, she learned of the pay disparity among the film’s stars. She said she received around $150,000 for working on the film, which had a reported budget of $150 million.

“It was less than 2 percent than what I found out Brad [Pitt] got paid. I was number three on the call sheet y’all—that’s Brad, Cate [Blanchett] and me,” she said.

She added that after taxes and paying her team, she “walked away with about $40,000.”

“I was angry, I was disgusted, and I was hurt, but instead of stewing in that negative space, instead of becoming cynical, I decided that I would allow hope not hurt to shape my work,” Henson recalled.

She said she channeled that energy into her role as Queenie.

“Hollywood might have not have paid me what my work was worth, but I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to show the world what the countless Queenies had done and what their sacrifices had meant,” she explained.

“Other people don’t get to determine your worth, only you get to do that — and if you always show up, show out. Give it your all and the world has to pay attention,” she reminded the graduates.

The actress then talked about the first role she was offered after she received an Oscar nomination for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — in the lead role of Tyler Perry’s 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.

She closed out her speech by challenging the graduates to walk in faith, love and service.

Watch the full commencement speech below: