Taraji P. Henson revealed that Tyler Perry, the director, was the first to hand her a $500k check.
As part of Variety’s ‘Actors on Actors’ series, Taraji sat down with ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ star Ellen Pompeo to explore the pay disparity in the entertainment industry.
“I think the industry knew I was talented. But it’s about money. Are you bankable? I had to continuously prove that. I’ve been trying to prove and improve. I was asking for half a million. I didn’t get paid until I did my first Tyler Perry film,” she told Pompeo.
“He was the first person who paid me $500,000. I was never in a position where I could not take a job; by the grace of God, they have all been really good characters. But it was never a situation where I was like, “I’m not going to do that.” Now, I’m finally there.”
Despite being the one who advised Fox to hire Terrence Howard, Taraji stated that she was paid less than her co-star Terrence Howard throughout the first few seasons of the show.
“But when all the tweets were about Cookie, I said, “It’s time to renegotiate. Can everybody sit down at the table, please?” I’d been in the game long enough to know the numbers game, and I knew Cookie had become iconic. You need her. So, I need my money.”
Henson reportedly now receives $250,000 per episode on ‘Empire.’
Henson later told Tyler Perry about her displeasure with Benjamin Button’s wages, and he cast her in the 2009 film I Can Do Bad All by Myself and the 2018 film Acrimony. He also paid her her asking price of $500,000 without hesitation, allowing her to formally boost her billing rate for any future roles.
In an interview with Variety, she told Ellen Pompeo:
“First Tyler Perry film, he was the first person that broke the standard of what I was getting paid for films. He gave me $500,000. Right after that, I did ‘Karate Kid’, because I had a quote now, up until then, I didn’t have a quote. When ‘Benjamin Button’ didn’t want to pay me–I was just asking $500,000–when they didn’t want to give me that, I could’t say, ‘I’m not doing this movie!'”
And, believe it or not, Taraji isn’t the only one for whom Perry has done this. He is well-known for keeping an eye on several members of the Black Hollywood community. Before her death, Cicely Tyson wrote in her memoir:
“When [Perry] heard how little I was paid for ‘Sounder’ and ‘The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman’, his mouth fell open. From then on, he decided to double, and sometimes even triple or quadruple, my asking price for any role he requested that I play.”
This was Perry’s way of ensuring that the iconic actress was compensated fairly after decades of opening doors for Black women in Hollywood despite being underpaid. Tyler Perry’s son, Aman, grew up with the actress, and she eventually became his godmother.
So, the next time we consider slamming his work or how he conducts himself in Hollywood, remember that that Black man is catapulting us (in an industry where we are considered as nothing) in ways that go beyond what we can see.
And, as Taraji P. Henson famously put it, “A Black man did that.”