Taraji P. Henson says “the math ain’t mathing” on pay equity in entertainment

Actress Taraji P. Henson shared her frustrations about the persistent gender and racial pay gap in the entertainment industry while promoting her upcoming film, “The Color Purple.”

In an interview this week on SiriusXM with Gayle King, the co-host of “CBS Mornings,” Henson, joined by co-star Danielle Brooks and director Blitz Bazawule, addressed rumors that she was considering quitting acting. Visibly emotional, she attributed the sentiment to the financial inequity she has faced in the industry.

“I’m just tired of working so hard, being gracious at what I do, getting paid a fraction of the cost,” Henson 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 mathing. And when you start working a lot, you have a team. Big bills come with what we do. We don’t do this alone. It’s a whole entire team behind us. They have to get paid.”

She went on to say that on the reported compensation for her projects, “Uncle Sam” often takes 50%, and another 30% goes to her team. 

“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 tired,” Henson said.

Bazawule commented on the fight to cast Henson, Brooks and Fantasia Barrino-Taylor in the film. 

“Especially for Black women, and I’m going to be very specific — it’s like you were never here,” the director said. “And the fact that every single one of you had to audition for this role — roles that were second nature to you. Roles that no one should even question the minute the name comes up. The question is, ‘How much do you have?'”

Henson’s experience echoes a broader issue, as the National Women’s Law Center analyzed last year, finding that women of color particularly face significant pay disparities. 

It’s not the first time the actress has spoken out on this topic, revealing that she only made $150,000 for her Academy Award-nominated role in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in a 2019 Variety interview.

Industry peers like Robin Thede and Gabrielle Union jumped to Henson’s support on social media. 

“Taraji is telling the absolute TRUTH. 70-80% of GROSS income is gone off top for taxes & commissions (agents, managers, lawyers),” Thede posted as part of a longer thread on the subject. 

“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,” Union wrote as well.

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