Taraji P. Henson tears up, says she may quit acting over being underpaid: 'I'm tired'

Taraji P. Henson takes part in SiriusXMs Town Hall With The Cast Of The Color Purple Hosted By Gayle King at SiriusXM Studios on Dec. 11, 2023, in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

Taraji P. Henson got emotional while discussing being underpaid as a Black actress, and her comments went viral this week on social media with many validating the issue of racial pay disparities in Hollywood. 

Henson, a Golden Globe winner and Oscar- and Emmy-nominated actress who stars in the upcoming film adaptation of "The Color Purple," was asked this week about the idea of her quitting acting during a SiriusXM interview with Gayle King

"I’m just tired of working so hard, being gracious at what I do, getting paid a fraction of the cost," Henson said in response, while getting visibly emotional. 

"I’m tired of hearing my sisters say the same thing over and over," the 53-year-old "Empire" star continued. "You get tired. I hear people go, ‘You work a lot.’ Well, I have to. The math ain’t mathing. And 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. The fact that we’re up here, it’s a whole entire team behind us. They have to get paid."

"When you hear someone say, ‘Oh, such and such made $10 million,’ know that didn’t make it to their account," she said in the joint interview, which also included "Color Purple" co-star Danielle Brooks and director Blitz Bazawule.

Henson, a drama graduate of Howard University, noted how "off the top, Uncle Sam is getting 50%." 

"Now we have $5 million. Your team is getting 30% off what you gross, not after what Uncle Same took. Now do the math," Henson explained, noting how her profession requires a team of people supporting her behind the scenes.

"I'm only human," she said. "It seems every time I do something and 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."

Henson rose to fame as Cookie Lyon on the FOX series "Empire," for which she received a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards in 2015 and 2016. 

She also nabbed an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Queenie in 2008’s "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," starring Brad Pitt. In 2016, she starred with Octavia Spencer in the film "Hidden Figures," which received three Oscar nominations.

Videos of Henson’s comments during the interview were posted online, prompting support from her "Think Like a Man" co-star Gabrielle Union.

"Not a damn lie told. Not. A. Damn. Lie," Union wrote Wednesday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. "We go TO BAT for the next generation and hell even our own generation and above."

Comedian, writer and fellow actress Robin Thede also voiced support for Henson’s comments in a lengthy thread

"Do the math of all of it and it’s often still living check to check and not creating generational wealth," Thede wrote on X. "Especially living in LA/NY. All the while watching non-Black actors get paid WAY more."

"This woman is OSCAR NOMINATED - imagine the struggle for  99% of the rest," Thede continued. "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."

Henson has previously discussed her experiences with pay disparity in Hollywood, including an interview in 2019 in which she described having to "continuously prove" that she is "bankable."

After her 2005 film "Hustle & Flow," Henson said she started asking for more, but didn’t get paid that number until appearing in Tyler Perry’s 2009 film "I Can Do Bad All By Myself."

"I’ve been trying to prove and improve," Henson told Variety. "I was asking for half a million. I didn’t get paid that until I did my first Tyler Perry film. He was the first person who paid me $500,000."

"The Color Purple" hits U.S. theaters on Christmas Day.

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This story was reported from Cincinnati.