Taraji P. Henson Broke Down in Tears When Asked If She Was Quitting Acting

"I’m just tired of working so hard, being gracious at what I do, getting paid a fraction of the cost."

Taraji P. Henson attends the Academy Museum Gala
(Image credit: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Academy Museum of Motion Pictures)

The Color Purple's press tour has been a nonstop marathon of Black excellence and dazzling looks, but the latest viral clip from the cast gets candid about the pay disparity Black women face in Hollywood. Taraji P. Henson, who plays Shug Avery in the acclaimed adaptation, became emotional during a SiriusXM interview when host Gayle King asked about recent rumors that Henson may quit acting, and the Oscar nominee's answer is both infuriating and heartbreaking.

As she broke down in tears, Henson—an Oscar and Emmy nominee and Golden Globe winner—explains that she is near her breaking point, as an actress who's 20-plus years into her career and still getting underpaid and less supported than her contemporaries.

"I’m just tired of working so hard, being gracious at what I do, getting paid a fraction of the cost," she said. "I’m tired of hearing my sisters say the same thing over and over. You get tired. I hear people go, ‘You work a lot.’ I have to. The math ain’t math-ing."

She went on to explain that actors only take home a fraction of the pay that's reported for each movie, after taxes are taken out and they have to pay the team that works with them personally behind the scenes. She added that, despite previously starring on hit primetime shows and Oscar-nominated films, she feels that she's back at square one with every salary negotiation.

Taraji P. Henson attends a screening event for The Color Purple

(Image credit: Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Warner Bros. Pictures)

"I’m only human and 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," Henson said, while wiping her tears with a tissue. "I’m tired. It wears on you. What does that mean? What is that telling me?"

In a poignant moment, her co-star Danielle Brooks added, "And what is it telling me?" pointing out how actresses like Henson set the pay standard in Hollywood.

"If I can’t fight for them coming up behind me then what the fuck am I doing?" Henson added.

The Hidden Figures and Empire star also pointed out that despite her various accomplishments, she still gets told there’s not a lot of money on the table for her projects because Black actors and stories "don’t translate overseas."

"I’m tired of hearing that my entire career. Twenty-plus years in the game and I hear the same thing. I see what you do for another production and when it’s time for us to go to bat, you don’t have any money. They play in your face, and I’m just supposed to smile and grin and bear it and just keep like—enough is enough," she concluded.

This is not the first time that Henson has spoken out about not being paid fairly in Hollywood, and how this affects her mental health. In a 2019 Variety interview, she revealed that she was initially offered $100,000 for her role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which earned her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. Henson was able to bump up the salary to $150,000, but that was far below the salary she expected as the third name on the call sheet, only behind co-stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett.

"I was just asking for half a million – that’s all. That’s it. When I was doing Benjamin Button, I wasn’t worth a million yet. My audience was still getting to know me. We thought we were asking for what was fair for me, at the time. I asked for half a million. That’s it," she said at the time. "And they gave me $100,000. Does that make sense? I’m number three on the call sheet. Does that make sense to you? All I was asking was $500,000 – that’s all we were asking for."

Over the past morning, countless women—from huge Hollywood stars to workers in different industries—have lauded Henson for speaking on a dynamic that affects Black women and other marginalized people in every industry. Read some of these messages below:

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Quinci LeGardye
Contributing Culture Editor

Quinci LeGardye is a Contributing Culture Editor who covers TV, movies, Korean entertainment, books, and pop culture. When she isn’t writing or checking Twitter, she’s probably watching the latest K-drama or giving a concert performance in her car.