Taraji P. Henson deserves every coin and compliment she’s receiving right now because the actress has certainly paid her dues — literally — to make it to the point she’s at now in her career.
We’re sure you’ve heard by now that Taraji has released a memoir, Around the Way Girl, and while nearly every detail of her life and career come-up is a page-turner, one of the more disturbing details is what the Empire star had to sacrifice to land her part as Queenie in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Taraji shared in her 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.
What’s even more sad, is the treatment the single mother received isn’t all that unique for black actresses. Taraji continued:
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 who’s 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.
Because hindsight is 20/20, it can be argued that Taraji made the right choice in accepting the pennies Universal Pictures offered her. The 46 year old won an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her part and, thanks to Tyler Perry, in her next role in I Can Do Bad All by Myself and every role after, Taraji knew her true worth.
“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. 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.”
Per the TV star salaries that were leaked last week, Taraji is now making six figures for every episode of Empire. And though her $175,000 may still demonstrate how real the racial and gender pay gap is in Hollywood, Cookie has still come a long way from having to cover her own room and board to make it in Tinseltown.