BLACK VOICES

Taraji P. Henson Made Under 2 Percent Of Brad Pitt's 'Benjamin Button' Salary

The star spilled tea on how little Hollywood pays black actresses.
Taraji P. Henson, queen of "Empire."
Taraji P. Henson, queen of "Empire."

Taraji P. Henson is spilling all the tea about Hollywood’s mistreatment of black stars in her new memoir, Around the Way Girl. 

In an excerpt from the book, released Tuesday, the actress recounts a story about wage negotiations for her 2008 movie, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” While stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett received millions to be in the film, she says she was promised “somewhere in the mid six figures” for her role as Benjamin Button’s adoptive mother, Queenie. 

And yet, according to Henson, the producers of the film low-balled her. Henson writes that her agent told her that instead of the mid six figures, the highest the studio was willing to go was in “the lowest of six figures.”

“There was one other thing,” Henson reveals in the book. “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.”

Henson reacting to her Academy Award nomination for "Benjamin Button" in 2009. 
Henson reacting to her Academy Award nomination for "Benjamin Button" in 2009. 

The 46-year-old actress, who at the time was a single-mother with well over a decade in Hollywood under her belt, goes on to explain in the book that this type of treatment is par for the course for black actresses in the industry.

“There are way more talented black actresses than there are intelligent, meaningful roles for them,” Henson explains in the memoir. “And we’re consistently charged with diving for the crumbs of the scraps, lest we starve.”

She adds, “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.”

Henson, who now makes six-figures per episode on her hit show “Empire,” has come a long way since “Benjamin Button” (for which she received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nom). The actress credits Tyler Perry for giving her a fair wage for her starring role in “I Can Do Bad All By Myself,” thus raising her quote and enabling her to negotiate for more money in future projects. 

“It was because of [Tyler Perry] — not an Oscar nomination — that I never had to take another movie project at the rock bottom of six figures.”

Henson’s story serves as yet another reminder of how inclusion and success for black people in Hollywood isn’t just about who is in front of the camera, but who is behind it as well. 

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