In an emotional interview released Tuesday, Taraji P. Henson spoke for the umpteenth time about how tired she is of being lowballed for her work as a Black woman in Hollywood — and why she’s resisting the temptation to quit in the face of the industry’s persistent pay disparities.
Henson first suggested she wanted to stop acting in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, where she said she had to audition for her role in The Color Purple even though the director already wanted to cast her. “I’ve been fighting tooth and nail every project to get that same freaking quote,” she said, adding that she keeps working with the hope that she can help make sure younger Black actresses don’t have to fight the same battle. “I’ve tried twice to walk away,” she said. “But I can’t, because if I do, how does that help the ones coming up behind me?”
When asked about those comments in a SiriusXM sit-down with Gayle King, which was released on Tuesday, Henson spoke through tears about being constantly devalued by Hollywood. Sitting with her The Color Purple co-star Danielle Brooks and the movie’s director, Blitz Bazawule, she paused before responding to King’s question about retiring from acting. Then she stated, “I’m just tired of working so hard, being gracious at what I do, getting paid a fraction of the cost. I’m tired of hearing my sisters say the same thing over and over.”
Henson added, “It seems every time 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.”
“What is that telling me?” she asked, which was then echoed by Brooks. Gesturing to her younger co-star, Henson choked up. “If I can’t fight for them coming up behind me, then what the fuck am I doing?”
Henson also said that, after decades of critically acclaimed work and Oscar and Emmy nominations, she still gets frequently told she doesn’t “translate overseas.” “I see what you do for other productions,” she said, addressing studios, “and when it’s time for us to go to bat, you don’t have any money. I’m just supposed to grin and bear it?”
As the clip circulated, other Black actresses voiced their support and agreement. “This woman is OSCAR NOMINATED,” comedian Robin Thede wrote. “Imagine the struggle for 99% of the rest.” Keke Palmer reposted Thede’s thread, adding, “We run businesses to keep our brands afloat, us being the brand/business. We ALL work multiple jobs and we may like some but also because we HAVE to. To be successful and live in America it’s literally this way because of the cash to expense ratio.”
Gabrielle Union also reposted the clip on X. “Not a damn lie told,” she wrote. “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.”
Still, Henson said that having other projects outside acting, like her hair-care line and the mental-health foundation she created in honor of her father, keeps her going. “This industry, if you let it, it’ll steal your soul,” she said. “But I refuse to let that happen.”
This post has been updated.