For the last 20 plus years, our highlighted icon for Black History Month has been dazzling big screen and small screen fans with a diverse series of films and tv projects. We celebrate the incredible actress Taraji P. Henson.
How You Know Her
She was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress as Brad Pitt's mom in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." She was outstanding as real-life NASA mathematician Katherine Goble Johnson in "Hidden Figures."
She was the first African American woman to win the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series for her portrayal of hip-hop matriarch Cookie Lyon on the hit show "Empire." For the role, she's also won a Golden Globe, and was nominated for an Emmy in 2015 and 2016.
She was further nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series for the project "Taken from Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story," about a woman seeking out her son who's been kidnapped and taken out of the country by his biological father.
Other familiar roles for fans would be her starring roles in movies "Hustle & Flow" (alongside her "Empire" co-star Terrence Howard); the remake of "The Karate Kid"; "No Good Deed" with Idris Elba; the rom com "What Men Want"; and the CGI-animated sequel "Ralph Breaks the Internet." She's also known for major roles in television series like "Boston Legal" and "Person of Interest."
Their Life So Far
The 50-year-old who looks anything but her age grew up in Washington D.C. area and was inspired her whole life by her maternal grandmother, whom she took to the Oscars the year she was nominated. Henson originally intended to study electrical engineering, but upon transferring to Howard University, decided to study drama. To make ends meet when she was in college, she worked as both a secretary at The Pentagon and as a singing and dancing waitress on a cruise ship, "The Spirit of Washington."
She moved her way up in Hollywood in the '90s with bit parts in shows like "ER" and "Felicity," and her big break came with a film role in director John Singleton's 2001 drama "Baby Boy."
Besides "Hustle & Flow" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," Henson appeared as well in the '00s in two Tyler Perry films, "The Family That Preys" and "I Can Do Bad All By Myself" (Perry's most well-reviewed directorial film to date).
Over the last 10 years, Henson appeared in the comedy "Think Like a Man," based on a Steve Harvey book, and its sequel "Think Like a Man Too." This past decade also found her shining in "Hidden Figures," "Empire" and as the lead in "What Men Want" (which was a reversal on the Mel Gibson 2000 film "What Women Want," with both films' leads suddenly able to hear the inner thoughts of the opposite gender).
Over the last several years, she's become synonymous with her trademark character Cookie Lyon. Last summer, it was announced that a spin-off "Empire" series based around Cookie is currently in the works.
The Movie to Watch
Since we'd already recommended "Hidden Figures" for a previously highlighted icon, Octavia Spencer, we're going to go here with "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." While the film is centrally about Brad Pitt's Benjamin Button character, who's born old and ages in reverse, we really think the spirit of the movie and its sense of decency, goodness, inclusion and love comes from Taraji P. Henson as Benjamin's adopted mom. She was nominated for an Academy Award for good reason. She's played a lot of memorable characters over the years, but we really love her here.
What's Up Next
Ever the one to mix it up and keep things varied and interesting, Taraji will provide the voice of the character Belle Bottom in the animated "Minions: The Rise of Gru," coming to theaters on July 2, 2021.
More Black History Month Highlights:
About the Author
Chuck is an editor/writer who's worked for NCM, Fandango, Movies.com, MediaTrip, Hollywood.com and Newsweek. His favorite movie is "Jaws." He's definitely a dog guy.