American Icon: Taraji P Henson


Taraji P Henson on

Image courtesy of UYAI

You might know Taraji P. Henson as the star of the music industry drama, Empire - named by Glamour as the most watched new show in 23 years.

But Taraji has been in the industry for two decades: performing in acclaimed roles in Hustle & Flow, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Hidden Figures and many other films and tv shows such as Person of Interest. She’s received Academy Award, SAG, Critic’s Choice, and Emmy nominations and has won a Golden Globe and Critic’s Choice Award.

It’s safe to say that Taraji has dominated Hollywood!

Early Life

Taraji had to work hard for everything she’s achieved.

She grew up in Washington D.C. and put herself through college working two jobs - as a secretary at the Pentagon by day, and as a singer/dancer on a cruise ship at night.

Taraji became pregnant in college at the age of 24, but she didn’t let that stop her. Despite negative comments, she persisted and finished school. She never missed a class and continued performing in a musical - convincing her drama teacher to make her character pregnant.

After she graduated from college, she took her son and $700 in savings, and traveled across the country to pursue her dream in Los Angeles. She focused on finding acting roles that would allow her to spend time with her son.

Taraji says of motherhood, “People thought I was crazy, but being a mom early enhanced my talent. It opened up a side of me that I didn’t know I had, that sense of duty and protection, and it kept me grounded in Hollywood.”

Cookie Monsters

Taraji’s infamous character, Cookie, in the hit drama Empire has become a sensation - even spurring a group of super fans calling themselves “Cookie Monsters.”

Cookie is a complicated character - an ex-con, boss of a music label with a strong personality and a lot of opinions. She should feel alienating, but viewers have connected with her, and Taraji’s convincing performance.

Empire will be starting its fourth season this fall, and has close to 8 million viewers. Most critics attribute this popularity with Taraji’s portrayal of Cookie.

Taraji says, “Cookie is bold and crazy, and she loves the struggle. She started from nothing, and now she’s at the top. In that way, we’re alike: Cookie is the American Dream.”

Overcoming Racial Issues

One of Taraji’s most treasured moments was during a screening of Empire in Paris.

Taraji says, “Lee Daniels (the series' co-creator) brought me onstage. The audience stood up on their feet and clapped. I cried because, for so long in Hollywood, I've been told that black women don't do well overseas, that they can't open a film overseas. That moment for me was the best moment of my life. That's better than any trophy, any award, any nomination. You know how they say music can heal the world? I feel that way about art in general.”

She also knows she most strive for change in order to make a better world for her son, Marcell. She saw how he struggled with being treated differently in his predominantly white school. Taraji believes that this can change and she is pushing to make strides for equality.

She explains, “He came home crying, like, "Why do white people hate us? Why can't we fix this?" This can be fixed. I'm gonna try my best to make change.”

Taraji P. Henson is an inspiring actress and role model and American Sunglass is proud to call her an icon!

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                Image courtesy of IMDB