She’s an acclaimed actress with a Golden Globe trophy and an Oscar nomination under her belt. But Taraji P. Henson says she’s faced a twofold battle in Hollywood — for diversity in projects, and for equitable pay.
The actress has written a memoir titled Around the Way Girl, and in it she opens up about losing highly coveted roles due to what she characterizes as movie executives’ tunnel vision in casting actors of color.
In one instance, Henson claims that a character in the 2014 comedy-drama St. Vincent was written specifically for her — but that the role ultimately went to Naomi Watts. It was, she says, just another example of how studio brass “couldn’t see black women beyond a very limited purview.”
She praises the film’s writer-director, Theodore Melfi, for being “able to see Taraji Henson outside the box — a black woman playing the gritty girlfriend of a grumpy white man.”
“Alas,” the 46-year-old actress writes about being passed over for the role, “I couldn’t get served at that particular restaurant.”
Henson also laments a considerable pay discrepancy she says she experienced while working on the fantastical 2008 film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The drama, which was headlined by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, was Henson’s breakthrough role and put her on the map after a decade of bit parts in TV shows and little-seen films.
Next to her costars, she writes, Henson was paid “the equivalent of sofa change,” adding that her paycheck was in the “lowest” six figures. She also allegedly had to cover the cost of her hotel bill for several months during production, an arrangement that she says was an “insult.”
Henson, however, emerged triumphant: Her performance as a nurturing worker at a nursing home who cares for the film’s peculiar lead character earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
She’s since scored a Golden Globe Award for best actress in a TV drama series for her sharp, snappy turn as fiery music mogul Cookie Lyon in the hit Fox drama Empire, her biggest and splashiest role to date.
She’ll next be seen on the big screen in Hidden Figures, which tells the true story of the African-American mathematicians who helped launch astronaut John Glenn into space. It rockets into theaters Jan. 13.