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Taraji P. Henson Breaks Down in Tears as She Shares Why She Might Quit Acting

The Color Purple star called out the industry in a recent interview.

Given that Taraji P. Henson has won a Golden Globe, been nominated for an Oscar and multiple Emmys, and stars in the new movie musical version of The Color Purple, you might assume that she's completely committed to her acting career. But during a recent interview, the star tearfully revealed that she's considering walking away from Hollywood entirely. During an appearance by Henson, The Color Purple director Blitz Bazawule, and co-star Danielle Brooks on her SiriuxXM show, host Gayle King asked the Empire star about the rumors that she might quit acting. Henson broke into tears as she explained how the industry's treatment of Black women has exhausted and upset her.

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"I'm just tried 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 told King of the pay disparity in Hollywood. She then explained that just because film and TV actors may be paid a high salary, they only end up taking home a small portion of it after taxes and the percentages that go to their team.

"I hear people go, 'You work a lot.' I have to. The math ain't mathing," the 53-year-old star said. "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, there's a whole entire team behind us. They have to get paid. So, when you hear someone saying, 'Oh, such and such made $10 million.' No, that's not—that didn't make it to their account."

Henson said that "Uncle Sam is getting 50 percent," and that an actor's team is getting around 30 percent "off of what you gross, not after what Uncle Sam took. Now do the math."

Warning: Explicit language in video above.

The Academy Award nominee continued, "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." She added, referencing 34-year-old Brooks and 41-year-old Bazawule, "And if I can't fight for them coming up behind me then what the [expletive] am I doing? I'm sorry." Henson also said that she has other ventures on top of acting, including her mental health foundation and her haircare brand, adding, "This industry, if you let it, it will steal your soul, but I refuse to let that happen."

Bazawule backed up Henson's claims by sharing that he had to fight to get her, Brooks, and co-star Fantastia Barrino all cast in The Color Purple. He also noted that despite the actors' experience, they all had to audition for the film even though their roles "were second nature" to them. (Barrino, for instance, had already played her role in the Broadway production of The Color Purple.) "Especially for for Black women, and I'm going to be very specific, it's like you were never here," the filmmaker said.

As reported by People, fellow Black women actors took to social media empathized with Henson's struggle. "The entertainment industry is just like any other industry. We run businesses to keep our brands afloat, us being the brand/business. And it's that team of company members that decrease any assumed large lump sum," Keke Palmer wrote as part of a lengthy Instagram caption. "To make money you must spend money so what seems like a lot is taken by a lot. There is still privilege in this depending what vantage point you are seeing from, but in our industry amongst one another this is [neutralized]."

"Not a damn lie told. Not. A. Damn. Lie," Gabrielle Union wrote on X (formerly Twitter). "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]."

Henson has spoken out about pay inequality before.

"I still have to fight for it," Henson told Variety of being paid fairly in 2019. "We live in a world where people are always trying to get a bargain. You can't bargain on my talent, I'm sorry… I'm not afraid to walk away because I know what I offer."

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Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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