Taraji P. Henson ‘Almost Had to Walk Away From Color Purple‘ Over Low Pay
Starring as Shug Avery in the upcoming movie musical, Henson has been making waves talking about salaries for Black women in Hollywood.
Taraji P. Henson has been making waves talking about the disparity in salaries that Black women experience in Hollywood while on a press tour for the upcoming movie musical The Color Purple, releasing in movie theatres December 25. Henson co-stars as Shug Avery, alongside Color Purple Broadway alums Fantasia Barrino as Celie and Danielle Brooks as Sofia.
Henson’s comments first went viral after a visit to Gayle King’s Sirius/XM show, during which she shared that she’s thought about leaving acting. “It seems every time I do something and I break another glass ceiling, when it comes time to renegotiate, I’m at the bottom again…I’m tired,” she said through tears, adding that to add insult to injury, 50 percent of her salary goes to taxes and 30 percent goes to her “team” (usually agents and managers).
Color Purple director Blitz Bazawule also supported Henson’s claims, saying that when it came time to cast the film, all the actors had to audition, despite them being award-winning or having done the musical previously on Broadway. “Knowing how hard they fought to not have you all here and knowing how hard we had to fight to ensure that,” he said, looking at Henson and Color Purple actor Danielle Brooks. “The fact that each one of you, everyone single one of you, had to audition for this role, roles that were second nature for you, roles that no one should even question.”
At a recent career retrospective hosted by the SAG/AFTRA Foundation, Henson expanded her thoughts and revealed that the pay issue nearly led to her not starring in The Color Purple. “I’m really tired of Black women having the same story,” she says to moderator Angelique Jackson. “It’s breaking my heart…Every time you achieve something really incredible, it’s almost like the industry looks at it as a fluke. Like, ‘Ah, all that was like some one-time thing.’ So you fall back to the bottom and you gotta negotiate and fight tooth and nail to get what you made the last time, when where’s my raise? I haven’t seen a raise in my income since Proud Mary [in 2018]. And almost had to walk away from Color Purple…If I don’t take a stand, how am I making it easy for [Color Purple co-stars] Fantasia [Barrino] and Danielle [Brooks] and Halle [Bailey] and Phylicia [Pearl Mpasi]? Why am I doing this, if it’s just for me?”
Henson ended her remarks with a dash of hope, however. “We need to figure it out,” she says. “And we can. And we are. You have to look at the glass as half full. It’s always half full.”
Along with Henson, Barrino, Brooks, Bailey, and Mpasi, The Color Purple is led on screen by Corey Hawkins as Harpo, H.E.R. as Squeak, Tony nominee Colman Domingo as Mister, Grammy winners Jon Batiste as Grady and Ciara as Adult Nettie, Tony winner David Alan Grier as Reverend Avery, Aunjanue Ellis as Celie and Nettie’s mother, Elizabeth Marvel as Miss Millie, Louis Gossett, Jr. as Ol’ Mister, Tamela Mann as First Lady, Deon Cole as Alfonso, Stephen Hill as Buster, Terrence J. Smith as Adam, Tiffany Elle Burgess as Olivia, and Aba Arthur as Abena.
Blitz Bazawule, who co-helmed Beyoncé’s visual album Black Is King, directs, with Winfrey, Quincy Jones, Sanders, and Steven Spielberg serving as producers. Marcus Gardley penned the screenplay, adapted from Marsha Norman’s stage book and Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray’s score. The stage musical was adapted from Alice Walker‘s 1982 Pulitzer-winning novel and its 1985 film adaptation.
The Color Purple debuted on Broadway in 2005, winning original Celie, LaChanze, a Tony Award for her performance. A 2015 revival helmed by John Doyle earned its Celie, Cynthia Erivo, a Tony Award before propelling her to Hollywood stardom. Brooks co-starred with Erivo as Sophia, the role she reprises in the upcoming movie musical.