In her upcoming book (which we can’t wait to read by the way), Around the Way Girl, Taraji P. Henson opens up about just how hard it has been for her in Hollywood. While she’s had great success since taking on the role of Cookie on Empire, before Fox gave her the role of a lifetime, she was struggling for her due regard. The actress was even being forced to come out of her pocket to pay certain costs just to do projects that studios should have been taking care of.
For instance, despite earning an Academy Award nomination for acting her behind off in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, she was paid “sofa change” in comparison to co-stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. She received critical acclaim for her work in Hustle & Flow before being offered the role of Queenie, so she was hoping the studio wouldn’t pay her a paltry salary. Things didn’t work out as she hoped. The Hollywood pay gap was real. Here’s what happened, according to an excerpt from the book:
Both Brad and Cate got millions. Me? With bated breath, I sat by the phone for hours, waiting for Vince [her manager] to call and tell me the number that I thought would make me feel good: somewhere in the mid six figures — no doubt a mere percentage of what Brad was bringing home to Angelina and their beautiful babies, but something worthy of a solid up-and-coming actress with a decent amount of critical acclaim for her work. Alas, that request was dead on arrival. “I’m sorry, Taraji,” Vince said quietly when we finally connected. “They came in at the lowest of six figures. I convinced them to add in a little more, but that’s as high as they’d go.” There was one other thing: I’d have to agree to pay my own location fees while filming in New Orleans, meaning three months of hotel expenses would be coming directly out of my pocket. Insult, meet injury.
That’s right. Despite giving Pitt and Blanchett a healthy payday for their work, the studio took advantage of Henson based on the fact that they knew, just as she and manager Vince did, that meaty roles for working Black actresses were few and far between. As she wrote:
The math really is pretty simple: there are way more talented black actresses than there are intelligent, meaningful roles for them, and we’re consistently charged with diving for the crumbs of the scraps, lest we starve.
This is exactly how a studio can get away with paying the person whose name is third on the call sheet of a big-budget film less than 2 percent what it’s paying the person whose name is listed first. I knew the stakes: no matter how talented, no matter how many accolades my prior work had received, if I pushed for more money, I’d be replaced and no one would so much as a blink.
As it turns out, soon after the Academy Award nomination, Tyler Perry offered Henson the leading role in his film I Can Do Bad All By Myself. According to Henson, he was the person who helped her to start getting paid what she deserves for her work.
“I was grateful for the work, but even more, I’m grateful to Tyler for putting me on the road to being paid my worth,” she said. “It was he who gave me a fair wage to star in his movie, which ultimately raised my quote — the baseline pay I could negotiate going into subsequent movie deals… It was because of him — not an Oscar nomination — that I never had to take another movie project at the rock bottom of six figures.”
And in case you missed it, now that Henson is being paid $175,000 per episode of Empire, she’s finally getting the pay, and respect, she deserves.