Acclaimed actress Taraji P. Henson recently made an emotional revelation about the pay inequality she has faced as a Black woman in Hollywood. In multiple interviews, Henson tearfully shared her frustration over being significantly underpaid compared to her white, male co-stars.
Henson Feels Undervalued Despite Her Star Power and Box Office Draw
Henson has been a powerful force in Hollywood for over two decades, starring in hits like “Hustle & Flow,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” the “Think Like A Man” franchise, “Proud Mary,” and the Fox series “Empire.” She won Golden Globe and Critics Choice awards for her performance as Cookie Lyon on “Empire,” as well as an Oscar nomination for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
Yet as she told journalist Gayle King, Henson has repeatedly found herself being paid a mere fraction of what her white, male co-stars make:
“If I wanted to quit, I could take a break for two years and still be fine. I’ve been blessed. But why should I have to do that when I love what I do? Why aren’t [white actresses] paid the same amount as Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio? And they are just as successful in their field…The math ain’t mathing.”
Henson says this pay gap has followed her throughout her career. She emotionally recalled making only $150,000 for 2008’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” while Brad Pitt was paid millions.
Table: Sample Hollywood Salaries
|The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
|The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
|Taraji P. Henson
“I couldn’t believe it,” she told King. “That didn’t even add up. That’s not math.”
Frustration Over Racism and Sexism Boiling Over
Henson’s tearful outpouring seems to reflect years of pent-up frustration over the systemic barriers she has faced. The emotional interview quickly went viral, sparking an outpouring of support from fans and a broader discussion about representation and inclusion in Hollywood.
Many saw Henson’s revelations as confirmation of the industry’s ongoing issues with racism and sexism when it comes to how artists of color, especially women, are valued and compensated compared to their white peers.
Table: Average Actor Salaries by Race & Gender
|White male actors
|Actors of color
|Actresses of color
With accomplished actresses like Viola Davis and Halle Berry also speaking out about pay inequality in recent years, Henson’s emotional plea seems to have broken open the floodgates.
Support From Entertainment Industry Peers
In the wake of Henson’s revelations, many of her fellow artists showed their support and validated her experiences with their own stories of pay inequality.
Actress Keke Palmer posted in response:
“This makes me so sad to read but I know the feeling… Black women out here trying to make a honest living but having to fight tooth & nail for every bit of it.”
Gabrielle Union also weighed in:
“When I negotiated my first few movie deals, it was expected that there was a huge pay gap between what I made and my white male counterparts. Eventually I started asking the question ‘why?'”
Their support seems to confirm Henson’s point – that navigating pay inequality remains an unfortunate norm for many talented actresses of color in Hollywood.
The Inciting Incident: Pay Dispute Over “The Color Purple”
So what led to Henson finally speaking out emotional about the pay gap after decades in Hollywood?
Ironically, it seems a dispute around the musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s acclaimed novel “The Color Purple” ultimately pushed her over the edge.
In the interview, Henson revealed that when she was offered a role in the musical, she discovered the producers expected her to accept a mere fraction of Oprah Winfrey’s salary when the media mogul originated the same part in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 film version.
Feeling furious and undervalued, Henson says she initially walked away from the project.
“I left. I said, ‘This is too stressful; why should I be fighting this hard for something I deserve?’”
Ultimately Henson did end up starring in the musical, but the difficult negotiations took an emotional toll, leading to her tearful revelations around the pay gap.
What Happens Next – Could Henson Walk Away From Hollywood?
After opening up about her profound frustration, Henson told Gayle King she has considered walking away from acting altogether multiple times.
Given her immense talent and star power, that would certainly be a major loss for Hollywood and moviegoers alike.
When King asked if she might actually quit, Henson confirmed it’s a real possibility:
“I could. I really could walk away. I could retire if I want to, I’m good…No one would even miss me.”
For now, Henson doesn’t seem to have concrete plans to quit acting. But her emotional revelations have made one thing clear – something needs to change around how actresses of color are valued and compensated compared to their peers.
Fallout in Hollywood and Beyond
In the wake of Henson’s viral interview, the entertainment industry seems to be reckoning with uncomfortable questions around representation, diversity and inclusion behind the scenes.
While movies like “Black Panther” and TV series like “Abbott Elementary” are breaking ratings records and garnering acclaim with primarily Black casts, Henson’s experience confirms more work needs to be done around ensuring equal pay.
Her emotional plea is also resonating far beyond Hollywood. For Black women in all industries, Henson giving voice to such a profound, relatable frustration is both powerful and validating.
In media coverage of this story, the response across social media showed women of color connecting deeply with Henson’s cathartic tears over not being paid her worth.
Through opening up about her personal experience, Henson has touched a collective nerve – not just over pay inequality in Hollywood but the broader implications around how Black women’s labor and talent are fundamentally undervalued in America.
Time will tell whether Henson’s viral moment sparks real change in how actresses of color are treated in Hollywood. But her willingness to speak emotional truth to power has already made this a watershed moment for representation and inclusion in the industry.
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