Oprah Winfrey wants everyone to know that things between her and Taraji P. Henson are all good — an admission that came weeks after speculation about tension between the producer and “The Color Purple” star.
Setting the record straight Sunday, Winfrey said she supports Henson fully in all her endeavors.
During the press tour for “The Color Purple” — a film for which Winfrey served as a producer — Henson was outspoken about her experiences in Hollywood with pay disparity and later detailed how she had to argue to get drivers for the film’s stars during the production.
Naturally, online chatter turned to speculation and questions about why Winfrey wouldn’t personally step in to eradicate tension on the set.
On Sunday’s Golden Globes red carpet, the former daytime TV queen tried to dispel the rumors and confirmed that she and Henson are on good terms.
“People are saying that I was not supporting Taraji,” Winfrey told Entertainment Tonight. “Taraji will tell you herself that I’ve been the greatest champion of this film. Championing not only the behind-the-scenes production but also everything that everybody needed.”
She continued, “Whenever I heard that there was something that people needed — I’m not in charge of the budget because that’s Warner Bros., that’s the way the studio system works and we as producers, everybody gets their salary that’s negotiated by your team.”
Winfrey clarified that when she would hear of a problem on set, she would “step in” to do what she could do alleviate any issues.
As for her purported feud with Henson, Winfrey said outright, “There’s no validity to there being a thing between Taraji and I.”
In December, a tearful Henson, who plays Shug Avery in the film, expressed her frustrations about pay disparity in her line of work.
“I’m just tired of working so hard, being gracious at what I do, getting paid a fraction of the cost,” Henson told Gayle King on SiriusXM. “I’m tired of hearing my sisters say the same thing over and over. You get tired. I hear people go, ‘You work a lot.’ Well, I have to. The math ain’t mathing.”
She said entertainers often have a team behind them that shares in any paycheck — and that’s not to mention the chunk claimed by Uncle Sam.
“When you start working a lot, you know, you have a team,” the “Empire” star continued. “Big bills come with what we do. We don’t do this alone. There’s a whole entire team behind us. They have to get paid.”
Henson said her previous accomplishments — which include several Emmy nominations and an Academy Award nomination — don’t carry weight when it comes time to negotiate a salary, a problem affecting many Black female actors.
“Every time I do something and I break another glass ceiling, when it’s time to renegotiate, I’m at the bottom again, like I never did what I just did and I’m just tired,” she explained. “It wears on you — ’cause what does that mean? What is that telling me? And if I can’t fight for [the Black female actors] coming up behind me, then what the f— am I doing?”
After her remarks, many quickly pointed a finger at Winfrey, who simultaneously went viral for appearing to dismiss a photo-op with Henson during the press tour. But Henson appeared to quash that the online hubbub on Instagram just before the film was released on Christmas Day.
“It is so important for black women and ALL women of color to support each other,” Henson captioned a photo of herself and Winfrey smiling next to each other. “Ms. OPRAH has been nothing less than a steady and solid beacon of light to ALL OF THE CAST of The Color Purple!!! She has provided ENCOURAGEMENT, GUIDANCE and UNWAVERING SUPPORT to us all. She told me personally to reach out to her for ANYTHING I needed, and I did!
She finished her post by writing, “It took ONE CALL… ONE CONVERSATION… and ONE DECISION MAKING BLACK WOMAN to make me feel heard.”
In an interview with the New York Times earlier this month, Henson said that her co-stars Fantasia Barrino and Danielle Brooks got “a lot of the stuff” on “The Color Purple” set because of her advocacy.
“[The production] gave us rental cars, and I was like, ‘I can’t drive myself to set in Atlanta.’ This is insurance liability, it’s dangerous,” Henson said. “Now they robbing people. What do I look like, taking myself to work by myself in a rental car? So I was like, ‘Can I get a driver or security to take me?’ I’m not asking for the moon. They’re like, ‘Well, if we do it for you, we got to do it for everybody.’ Well, do it for everybody! It’s stuff like that, stuff I shouldn’t have to fight for.”
Henson noted that encountering that level of struggle throughout her career has taken a toll.
“It wears on your soul because you fight so hard to establish a name for yourself and be respected in this town to no avail. With Black films, they just don’t want to take us overseas and I don’t understand that,” she said. “Black translates all over the world, so why wouldn’t the movies?”