Do you ever wake up, open Twitter and the first thing you see stays with you all day? The algorithm was algorithming when it served me a video of Taraji P Henson fighting back tears during an interview with Gayle King, while explaining how she continues to be paid a fraction of the money her white counterparts are making for similar roles. The way her voice breaks at the end of the clip is heartbreaking.


There's a cost of living crisis right now, especially here in Toronto where we're constantly having conversations about a living wage. Those conversations include the cost of childcare, the cost of housing, the cost of gas, I mean even the cost of food is ridiculous. How are people expected to get out of bed in the morning, let alone perform their job well, if they can barely afford to nourish their bodies? I’m not trying to compare Taraji’s situation to people trying to put food on the table, but the principles are the same. We're all like a business — the money we make isn't just profit. We need to pay for housing, food and services that keep this business running. 


Taraji's got payroll. As she says in the video, 30% of whatever she's making per gig goes to her reps and half goes to taxes. That's 70-80% gone. With that 20-20% left, you've got to pay your stylist, your hair, your MUA, your social media manager — who've all become essential to the business. You're only booking gigs because you look like a movie star. Black actresses can't show up to a press day or a red carpet in a messy bun. You're only booking gigs because you have a strong social media following. They already think Black actresses can't sell tickets. So what percentage are you left with to pay for a safe home away from paparazzi or stalkers, put food on the table, pay for childcare, etc. Oh, and that gig took 3 months to shoot + a month-long promo tour before it comes out. So 4 months of the year you can't make other income. 


It was later in the day that I saw another clip of Taraji where she revealed she almost walked away from The Color Purple during negotiations. Mind you, she’s saying this on The Color Purple press tour! (I screened the film a couple weeks ago and she’s amazing in it btw). In the video, you can hear that the audience audibly gasped at the admission. I'm not sure if they were in disbelief that a film directed by a Black man, featuring a Black cast would lowball her or that she would give up the opportunity to be part of such an iconic story — one that could take her right to the Oscars. Let's talk about both. 


First, your value is set by the Hollywood institution and you need a director who will go to bat for you with the studio to change precedent. This is The Color Purple director Blitz Bazawule's first time working with a major studio. He's got no capital to burn on this fight. Second, people always want to make "opportunity" and "exposure" and "honour" a replacement for money. It's the cherry on top, it should never be the cake. Plus, let's not forget Taraji is a Golden Globe winner for Empire and an Oscar nominee for The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttonwhere she's been open about requesting $500K for the role, to which the studio's final offer was $150K, leaving her to pocket only $40K. Tyler Perry was the first studio head to offer her the $500K she kept requesting. And let's be clear that was for I Can Do Bad All by Myself, essentially an independent film with a $19 million dollar budget, making $52 million at the box office. Meanwhile Button had a $150 million budget from Warner Bros. and Paramount and made $335 million at the box office.


In the same clip, she revealed hasn't seen a raise since her 2018 film Proud Mary. Since then, she's been nominated for a Daytime Emmy twice, this year she's nominated for a Primetime Emmy and she’s starred in smash-hit movies like Ralph Breaks the Internet and Minions: The Rise of Gru. The latter made $939 million at the box office. These are gold stars the bank won’t cash, but they undoubtedly make for a performance review worthy of a raise. And it’s not like Taraji isn’t out here advocating for herself. Listen to what she said about knowing her worth and acting on it after Empire ended.

She’s consistently spoken out about pay since Benjamin Button, but now she’s tired of fighting.

 What triggered her in the interview with Gayle King was the question: Are you thinking about quitting acting? That’s the point where she’s at. Gabrielle Union, Robin Thede, Viola Davis, and more Black actress have come out in the last 24 hours, to amplify Taraji’s message and co-sign her experience. Keke “Keeps a Job” Palmer said she’s an influencer, host, speaker, etc because acting wasn’t paying the bills. And it’s the same in many industries. People are driving Uber in their “free” time because the full time job isn’t cutting it. Wages aren’t fair and we know it statistically affects Black women the hardest. 


Keke is the generation Taraji is fighting forAs she says to Gayle King, “and if I can’t fight for them coming up behind me, then what the f-ck am I doing?” That’s why she almost walked away from The Color Purple because if an Oscar-nominee, Golden Globe winner, and one of the few Black actress to lead a primetime drama doesn’t stand up, the girls negotiating after her don’t stand a chance. She’s fighting the same fight 25 years in the game, while white actresses whose 15 minutes of movie stardom came and went were paid more. Taraji is tired. 


Attached: Taraji arriving at the CBS Morning Show in New York City on December 13th to promote The Color Purple.