Taraji P. Henson Said It’s Been “Scary” To Call Out Hollywood Pay Inequality

Henson has been vocal about the toll it takes on Black women, in particular.

Taraji P. Henson spoke out about pay inequality at the 55th NAACP Image Awards at Shrine Auditorium ...
Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

It was a winning night for Taraji P. Henson at the 2024 NAACP Image Awards, and she used the spotlight to keep fighting for pay equality in Hollywood. Though she had the support of the crowd, it was a vulnerable moment for her. Henson shared that it’s been “scary” to speak about her own experiences as a Black actress.

Calling For Equal Pay

As host Queen Latifah opened the show, she tackled the pay disparity issue with Henson’s help. “You know what’s not feeling inflation?” Queen Latifah said in her monologue, setting Henson up to answer, “Equal pay for Black actresses.” Then Queen Latifah thanked her for “standing up for all of us,” and had her and all of the Black actresses in the room stand together. Soon, she had everyone else on their feet, too, and she urged them, “Stand up for all of us Black actresses who have been representing for us.”

That moment was a touching precursor for when Henson accepted her NAACP Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture for The Color Purple later in the night. Henson referenced backlash she’s faced when she’s called for equal pay for actress in Hollywood, and women of color in particular, in the past, and she thanked everyone for their support.

“I just want to thank you guys so much for showing up for me all the time,” she said. “Not just to the box office or watching what I’m in, but you all saw what happened, and you all showed up, you showed out, you showed me love.”

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Speaking Her Truth

Further addressing her past comments about pay inequality, Henson added, “It’s a scary thing to speak your truth.” She encouraged others to keep doing it, though. “I urge you all to speak your truth, because at the end of the day, that’s all we have,” she said. “And like they say, ‘The truth will set you free,’ and not only that, it will set somebody else free.”

Henson was likely alluding to her Sirius XM interview with Gayle King in December, in which she got emotional as she recounted the toll it takes on her to be paid less than her counterparts. “I’m just tired of working so hard, being gracious at what I do, getting paid a fraction of the cost,” she said. “I’m tired of hearing my sisters say the same thing over and over. You get tired.”

She further explained that actors have to have big teams to do what they do, and so she’s had to work a lot to pay them as well. “I hear people go, ‘You work a lot,’” she said. “I have to. The math ain’t mathing.”

Finding Support

Though there were people who wanted to criticize Henson in the aftermath of her comments — and who tried to place the blame on The Color Purple executive producer Oprah Winfrey — she had a lot of others in her corner. Actors like Gabrielle Union and Keke Palmer took to social media to defend her, with Union noting in part, “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.”

Watch Henson’s full NAACP Image Awards acceptance speech below.

The Color Purple is now streaming on Max.