Taraji P. Henson is ready for the narrative surrounding “The Color Purple” to change.
Recently, her comments about her experience with pay disparity in Hollywood — and the revelation that she nearly turned down the Broadway musical adaptation because she felt lowballed — went viral. Now, Henson is asking that the attention return to the film that was released last Christmas.
“I hope they can focus back onto this film, because right now, to me, it feels like what I said is now becoming louder than this beautiful film,” Henson tells TODAY.com, while promoting her Always Discreet brand partnership.
“And that’s not fair to me, or anybody in the film,” Henson continues, “because the film deals with women who are oppressed — who live in an oppressed system. Men and women. And all the characters in that film except for the white people. So that movie is about healing. That movie is about sisterhood.”
In the Blitz Bazawule-directed adaptation based on Alice Walker’s classic novel, Henson stars as Shug Avery, a charismatic blues singer. Shug ends up saving the film’s central character, Celie (Fantasia Barrino) from future abuse by her husband Mister (Colman Domingo) — while also introducing her to the thralls of romantic love.
While the film centers on Celie’s journey of self-discovery, it also highlights the bond between women as they deal with their own struggles and trauma.
In a Jan. 4 interview with W magazine, Henson said one of the most striking things in “The Color Purple” was the “angle of sisterhood.”
“Because if women stick together, we can change the world,” she said.
Henson has also been very vocal about the sisterhood felt between actors during filming, telling the New York Times in a Jan. 5 interview that she and Barrino supported each other on set.
“I’m very confident in my acting because I do the work, but I was nervous about my singing. Fantasia’s nervous about acting because singing is her thing, so we held each other’s hand and lifted each other up,” she said.
"The Color Purple"has received much critical acclaim and praise and garnered multiple award nominations, including Golden Globe nods for Barrino and Danielle Brooks, who plays Sofia. But much of the conversation about the film has also been about Henson’s viral pay disparity comments and the rumors of a rift between her and one of the film’s executive producers, Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey earned an Oscar nomination for her debut acting role in Steven Spielberg's 1985 "Color Purple" adaptation.
Winfrey attempted to diffuse some of the online chatter in a Dec. 22 Instagram appreciation post, which featured photos of her with Henson. In her caption, which the media mogul shared a day after Henson posted about her and called her “a steady and solid beacon of light” for the cast, Winfrey wrote that she “long admired Taraji” and had “fiercely” welcomed her to the “Purple sisterhood.” “Taraji, the stage is now yours and I already see the standing ovations for you,” she said.
But on Jan. 7, after the negative commentary had seemingly reached a tilt, Oprah felt the need to set the record straight about her and Henson’s relationship while on the Golden Globes’ red carpet.
“I heard I was trending yesterday because people are saying that I was not supporting Taraji,” Winfrey told ET. “Taraji will tell you herself that I have been the greatest champion of this film, championing not only the behind-the-scenes production but also everything that everybody needed.”
Speaking with TODAY.com, Henson addressed Winfrey’s comments and the recent headlines, saying, “There’s nothing to spin!”
“I see what’s going on, but there’s nothing spin there,” she tells TODAY. “You saw the woman doing the electric slide in the dust with us. She was right there in the field doing the electric slide. She held our hands the entire production. She showed up, she was there — there are producers that don’t show up on set.”
The “Empire” star also backed up Winfrey’s comments to ET, in an interview in which she said that she “would step in and do whatever (she) could to make it right” on set.
“You know, she called me, she called me personally,” Henson tells TODAY.com. “Not my team, not my people — me. And asked me, ‘Taraji, if there’s anything you need, you let me know.’ And I said it with a shaking voice, I was like, ‘Well, yeah,’ — since she asked. And I told her and she fixed everything the next day.”
Though Winfrey had noted in her ET interview she “was not in charge” of the film’s budget because it was Warner Bros.’ responsibility, Henson still applauded the producer for stepping up, adding “That’s what a producer is supposed to do.”
“And what you’re not gonna do is pit two Black women together — not on my watch,” she adds.
Turning her attention back on the film, the “Proud Mary” actor says that like “The Color Purple” and its message of sisterhood and healing, her comments about pay disparity came from a place that “had a lot to do” with the same subject matter.
“We got to heal this in Hollywood, you know, we can’t just pretend like it’s not happening,” she says, before connecting the conversation to her new partnership with Always Discreet and the importance of women speaking up about their perimenopausal journey and experience.
“How will we make women feel comfortable about their changing bodies if we talk about these things in the dark shadows?” she asks. “That’s how change happens. You got to talk about it.”