Taraji P. Henson keeps it 100 about the wage gap and being a black actress in Hollywood, in her recent memoir Around The Way Girl.
The Empire star discusses the process of negotiating her salary for her role as Queenie in the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. At the time, Henson had built a resume with a body of critically acclaimed work with roles in films like Hustle & Flow. However, Henson reveals she was paid “the equivalent of sofa change” in comparison to what co-stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett received.
“Both Brad and Cate got millions. Me? With bated breath, I sat by the phone for hours, waiting for Vince [her manager] to call and tell me the number that I thought would make me feel good: somewhere in the mid six figures — no doubt a mere percentage of what Brad was bringing home to Angelina and their beautiful babies, but something worthy of a solid up-and-coming actress with a decent amount of critical acclaim for her work. Alas, that request was dead on arrival. ‘I’m sorry, Taraji,’ Vince said quietly when we finally connected. “They came in at the lowest of six figures. I convinced them to add in a little more, but that’s as high as they’d go.” There was one other thing: I’d have to agree to pay my own location fees while filming in New Orleans, meaning three months of hotel expenses would be coming directly out of my pocket. Insult, meet injury.”
Taraji then goes on to describe the humiliation she felt and her decision to take the part. She reveals it was due to the scarcity of complex roles for black women, and goes even further divulging her inability to demand the paycheck she deserved was due to the fact she’d easily be replaced.
“The math really is pretty simple: there are way more talented black actresses than there are intelligent, meaningful roles for them, and we’re consistently charged with diving for the crumbs of the scraps, lest we starve.
This is exactly how a studio can get away with paying the person who’s name is third on the call sheet of a big-budget film less than 2 percent what it’s paying the person whose name is listed first. I knew the stakes: no matter how talented, no matter how many accolades my prior work had received, if I pushed for more money, I’d be replaced and no one would so much as a blink.”
While she earned significantly less for her role as the adoptive mother of Pitt’s reverse-aging character, there are those who have recognized Henson’s talent and have adequately compensated her. She credits Tyler Perry, who cast her in his film I Can Do Bad All by Myself, with putting her on track to getting the paycheck she deserves.
“I was grateful for the work, but even more, I’m grateful to Tyler for putting me on the road to being paid my worth. It was he who gave me a fair wage to star in his movie, which ultimately raised my quote — the baseline pay I could negotiate going into subsequent movie deals… It was because of him — not an Oscar nomination — that I never had to take another movie project at the rock bottom of six figures.”
Get yours girl! Kudos to Taraji for speaking out about the inequalities not only women, but women of color face in Hollywood. It’s only right she be paid as an actress of her caliber. Let’s hope Taraji sharing her own experiences with wage inequality, and lack of meaningful roles for black women leads to some real change.