Taraji P. Henson is our friend in our head. The Empire actress is known for her jovial spirit and ghetto girl roles that she states, “I play very well.” The 48-year-old star sat down with Hello Beautiful to talk what it’s really like being a Black woman in Hollywood, her viral gif, and the women she’s clapping for now.
We meet at the Marriott International in downtown Detroit. Henson is there for a conversation about minority representation in media, along with Tony Weaver Jr., the founder of Weird Enough Entertainment. The conversation is a part of the hotel’s latest program, #LoveTravels Beyond Barriers and they held it during the National Black MBA Conference. #LoveTravels is a multifaceted program that focuses on people living their truth (however it looks) and supporting communities for the advancement of diversity. Weaver is one of the recipients of a $50K award from a $500K pool given out to individuals uplifting communities and helping to increase representation and access in a multiple of ways.
Henson makes time for a chat before she goes on stage. We talk her upcoming wedding where she reveals which of her celebrity girlfriends are invited, but insists that it’s going to be small and for friends and family. We talk fashion and I give her the details of my Wolford tights. She’s like the sister-friend you’ve always wanted. It makes her often used viral gif even better because she seems the same: encouraging and kind.
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I mention the 2016 meme that I use consistently when I’m cheering on my girlfriends. She laughs and responds, “Who knew that was gonna do that? That was visceral. That’s just who I am.” The gif is of Henson clapping over Regina King‘s Emmy win in 2016. The D.C. born actress explains, “That’s a natural reaction to anybody winning for me. So when I woke up the next morning, I was a bit mystified by why it was such a big deal. Then I thought about, ‘Well, I guess we don’t see that often. Which is sad.”
We’ve had Hollywood actresses, like Gabrielle Union, admit to mean girl behavior, but it extends past Hollywood. Every day women tear each other down and have been trained to be in competition with one another. Henson realizes the significance of this image, “Her win was definitely important, but that was just as important. That image. I guess that night God used me. I didn’t even know.”
So who is she clapping for right now? There are so many Black women in Hollywood having a moment. It’s truly a time for Black women. She tells me she’s rooting for, “Issa Rae. Regina King. There’s so many! Ava DuVernay. Thank God we’ve finally come to this place where we can say that. It just feels good. I’m clapping a lot! My hands are numb.”
And while she’s happy that there have been changes and more diversity in Hollywood, she also recognizes that there is still a long way to go. We discuss the inequity of pay not just between male and female actors, but also amongst actors of color. The Hollywood star tells me with an exasperated sigh, “I want to get my money. I can’t say I haven’t worked. I’ve worked. I’m starting to lead my own films now, but I want my money.” Henson has been in the business for decades and boasts multiple awards including a Golden Globe Award, a Critics Choice Award, several NAACP Image Award, to just name a few. She adds, “Pay me what I deserve. That’s my biggest gripe with the industry right now.”
And while she’s still fighting for contracts that rival white actresses with similar caliber, she’s not alone in the fight. She readily admits, “There were a lot of white women that greenlit Hidden Figures. From the studio execs down to the producers…most were white women.” She speaks fondly of Amy Schumer and her advocacy and allyship. “You see how stance she is online. I mean, I met her, we were both honored, I met her, but we aren’t ‘buddies.’ But I’ll see her liking all my pictures, whether it’s about my mental health foundation, whether it’s a pro-Black situation.” Less than a week later after this interview, Schumer would be arrested during the Kavanaugh protests.
Henson is also fighting for causes she believes in. Recently, she launched the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, “I want people to think of their mental health the way they do their physical health. It’s the same. You can talk about your thyroid but you can’t talk about your mental? It’s a part of your body. Your brain is still attached to your body.” The star is open about seeing a therapist and thinks it helps that she’s open about it. “We’ve been told to pray it away or it’s a sign of weakness. Or often times we’ve been demonized when we finally do speak up. It hasn’t been a very positive look in our community when we talk about mental health. But it’s time to change that. It’s time to break the silence and break the cycle.”
It looks like our favorite ‘Around The Way Girl’ will continue to make and break strides in Hollywood while uplifting our community around her. Taraji P. Henson is a strong sister girl on a mission where the only trajectory is upwards.