“Are you thinking about it?” King asked the Oscar-nominated actress while she was seated next to Blitz Bazawule and Danielle Brooks to promote their film The Color Purple. The question caused Henson to pause, cover her eyes with one of her hands and tear up. “I’m just tired of working so hard, being gracious about what I do, getting paid a fraction of the cost. I’m tried of hearing my sisters say the same thing over and over. You get tired.”
It’s no wonder King broached the subject. Henson appears on the current cover of The Hollywood Reporter opposite Brooks, Fantasia Barrino and King’s best friend, Oprah Winfrey, to promote the film, which has been updated and reimagined as a musical. In the story, Henson told THR‘s Co-Editor-in-Chief Nekesa Mumbi Moody that despite a career filled with successes like an Oscar nod for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, her Emmy noms for the series Empire and an acclaimed turn in Hidden Figures, she often feels stuck within the same lowball offers.
“I’ve been getting paid and I’ve been fighting tooth and nail every project to get that same freaking [fee] quote. And it’s a slap in the face when people go, ‘Oh girl, you work all the time. You always working.’ Well, goddammit, I have to. It’s not because I wish I could do two movies a year and that’s that. I have to work because the math ain’t mathing. And I have bills,” she told THR. “Listen, I’ve been doing this for two decades and sometimes I get tired of fighting because I know what I do is bigger than me. I know that the legacy I leave will affect somebody coming up behind me. My prayer is that I don’t want these Black girls to have the same fights that me and Viola [Davis], Octavia [Spencer], we out here thugging it out,” Henson says. “Otherwise, why am I doing this? For my own vanity? There’s no blessing in that. I’ve tried twice to walk away [from the business]. But I can’t, because if I do, how does that help the ones coming up behind me?”
Henson continued the subject by telling King that “the math ain’t mathing” when it comes to her salaries and supporting the team of people that work with her and for her. “When you start working a lot, you know, you have a team. Big bills come with what we do. We don’t do this alone,” she explained. “There’s a whole entire team behind us. They have to get paid.”
She also turned her attention to performers like Brooks by saying that the fight can be more exhausting if she can’t leave the door open for others. “It seems 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. I’m tired. I’m tired. It wears on you, you know? Because what does that mean?” she said. “If I can’t fight for them coming up behind me, then what the fuck am I doing?… They play in your face and I’m supposed to smile and grin and bear it.”
Henson’s interview went viral Wednesday as it was shared far and wide on X (formerly Twitter). Some of Henson’s Hollywood peers also weighed in on the subject, with Gabrielle Union posting, “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. 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.”
A Black Lady Sketch Show creator Robin Thede posted a thread encouraging her followers to watch the interview and then took a moment to break down the math that comes with taxes, commissions to agents, managers and lawyers and fees for employees. “This woman is OSCAR NOMINATED — imagine the struggle for 99% of the rest. Maybe folks won’t relate but that’s also the issue — being misunderstood and people just assuming they’re ‘rich.’ So next time yall see an actor working at Trader Joe’s, maybe it will hit different,” she shared before praising Henson on a personal level. “Taraji P. Henson is a goddess. I met her when I was a STAND IN on All of Us and she was a guest star. She treated me with the utmost kindness! I saw her a week ago at an awards show and she grabbed me and told me how proud she was of me . She has ALWAYS fought for US.”
Pose co-creator Steven Canals also offered his take: “This is why I always say, ‘Stay outta my bank account.’ People make assumptions that my success equates to financial stability. Yes, I had a whole ass show and no, I don’t drive a luxury car & I don’t own my home.”