July 19, 2024


The Intersection of Information and Insight

Taraji P. Henson on Hollywood pay disparity: ‘The math ain’t mathing’

3 min read

Taraji P. Henson has a lot of thoughts about the pay disparity in Hollywood.

The 53-year-old actor expressed her frustrations through tears while doing press for her upcoming film “The Color Purple.”

“I’m just tired of working so hard, being gracious at what I do, getting paid a fraction of the cost,” Henson told Gayle King on SiriusXM. “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 mathing.”

She said entertainers often have a team behind them that shares in any paycheck — and that’s not to mention the chunk claimed by Uncle Sam.

“When you start working a lot, you know, you have a team,” the “Empire” star continued. “Big bills come with what we do. We don’t do this alone. There’s a whole entire team behind us. They have to get paid.”

Henson said her previous accomplishments — which include several Emmy nominations and an Academy Award nomination — don’t carry weight when it comes time to negotiate a salary, a problem affecting many Black female actors.

“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,” she explained. “It wears on you — ’cause what does that mean? What is that telling me? And if I can’t fight for [the Black female actors] coming up behind me, then what the f— am I doing?”

Henson said her struggle for equal pay is part of the reason she branched out, adding business ventures. A growing number of actors are finding alternative forms of revenue.

And Henson is among Black women in Hollywood who have launched hair-care products in recent years. Others include Tracee Ellis Ross with Pattern, Issa Rae and Hannah Diop with Sienna Naturals, Gabrielle Union with Flawless and Tia Mowry with 4U. It’s part of a boom in the beauty industry, which has benefited from Black buying power but seen only a small number of Black business owners prosper.

“That’s why I have other things. I have my TPH brand and I have my mental wellness brand,” Henson said. “I have other things because this industry, if you let it, it’ll steal your soul. But I refuse to let that happen.”

Fellow Black women in the entertainment industry voiced support on social media for Henson’s comments.

“Not a damn lie told. Not. A. Damn. Lie. We go TO BAT for the next generation and hell even our own generation and above,” Gabrielle Union wrote in an X post. “We don’t hesitate to be the change that we all need to see AND it takes a toll on your mind, health, soul, and career if we’re keepn it [100].”

Comedian and former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Leslie Jones wrote,” I felt this s— to my core!! It don’t matter how much you work, how great you are at your job. They still don’t see you or think you are a relevant source. And I do feel scared for the Leslie joneses that will come after me! I felt this s— @tarajiphenson. I’ve loved you since when I met you on my first real audition in this industry!! I know how long you been at it!!

“We feel you, @tarajiphenson and we love you,” tweeted “Community” actor Yvette Nicole Brown. “It’s a fight we ALL are waging. For ourselves and for the ones coming up after us. This mess sucks!”

“A Black Lady Sketch Show” creator and actor Robin Thede chimed in on the conversation in an X post, writing, “WATCH THIS. Taraji is telling the absolute TRUTH. 70-80% of GROSS income is gone off top for taxes & commissions (agents, managers, lawyers). And for those who pay other employees as well? Babyyyy! The math ain’t mathing!”

Times staff writer Marissa Evans contributed to this report.

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