Of Course Taraji P. Henson Made Waaay Less Than Brad Pitt in 'Benjamin Button'

Taraji P. Henson promoting memoir

In recent years, we've heard a ton about the sexism in Hollywood, but what about the racism? What happens when you're both a woman and black? Of course, we know racial discrimination exists because Hollywood is simply a more elite version of the real world, but how often do we really discuss it? The truth is, it's not all that often. But actress Taraji P. Henson isn't staying mum on the subject in her memoir, Around the Way Girl, as she speaks out about being paid "less than two percent" of what lead star Brad Pitt made for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. 

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Like mine, your first assumption may be that she probably just wasn't at a point in her career to be paid what Pitt was given when they filmed the 2008 flick. But Henson lays that thought to rest immediately as she points out that while Brad was the first-listed actor, she was the third (starring as Benjamin Button's adoptive mom and earning an Oscar nom for the role). No, she was not too far below in rankings at all.

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While she was initially promised a salary in the mid–six figure range, the studio reneged on that number and dropped to the low end of six figures (while she says Brad and Cate Blanchett both made in the millions). And that wasn't all, as she writes in her 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.

While the simple solution may seem to be negotiating otherwise, that's just not an option for black women in Hollywood (no matter how much résumé cred they sometimes have) due to the lack of diversity and lack of roles offered to black stars -- a matter that has previously been discussed among stars like Viola Davis and Gabrielle Union on Oprah's Next Chapter in 2013

So, this alone limits the ability to say no, and whoever is negotiating these salaries knows that. It's easy to smell desperation, and that's what it comes down to when you're struggling to make your way in this world as a black person -- let alone in Hollywood. In the pages of her book, Taraji paints the ugly picture of being black in the entertainment industry:

...We're consistently charged with diving for the crumbs of the scraps, lest we starve ... 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.

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And Henson's problem isn't an isolated incident -- it's simply the reality of growing up black ... and the reality of growing up as a black woman, as figures show that in America, black women are paid only 63 percent of what white men are paid (with white women earning 79 percent). It's the reason we're taught that we must work twice as hard as our white counterparts, to merely get half of what they have.

The problem with this is as a community we're always sacrificing something by having to work overtime just to make less than -- whether it be money, work-life balance, or mental health in general. Because, believe me, it does take a toll in one way or another having to apply this motto to all aspects of our lives. To live on your toes, constantly, not knowing if your actions will be interpreted differently or valued less because of your skin color is no easy job. 

However, we're forced to put in the work until we either break through that barrier or gain enough credibility to do our own thing. We are, as Henson put it, forced to dive for the scraps.

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It's become second nature, and sometimes it works out and you get half as much to show for all your work. Sometimes you get nothing. But then, on occasion, there's someone who's able to take what's hers and win for all of us. Yes, we are looking at Taraji -- who slays with her six-figure-per-episode salary on Empire. We're hoping that Taraji will continue to be an example until we can invoke the necessary change for fair and equal representation.

 

Image via Johns PKI/Splash News

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