Taraji P- Henson

Taraji Penda Henson (/təˈrɑːdʒi/ tə-RAH-jee; born September 11, 1970) is an American actress, singer, and author. She studied acting at Howard University and began her Hollywood career in guest-roles on several television shows before making her breakthrough in Baby Boy (2001). She received praise for playing a sex-worker in Hustle & Flow (2005) and a single mother of a disabled child in David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008); for the latter, she received Academy Award, SAG Award and Critics Choice Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress; for the former, she received a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture nomination. In 2010, she appeared in the action comedy Date Night and co-starred in the remake of The Karate Kid.



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Taraji P. Henson
Henson at the premiere of
Hidden Figures in 2016
Taraji Penda Henson

(1970-09-11) September 11, 1970 (age 48)
EducationNorth Carolina A&T State University
Howard University (BFA)
  • Actress
  • author
Years active1992–present
AwardsFull list

Taraji Penda Henson[1][2] (/təˈrɑːi/ tə-RAH-jee; born September 11, 1970) is an American actress, singer, and author. She studied acting at Howard University and began her Hollywood career in guest-roles on several television shows before making her breakthrough in Baby Boy (2001). She received praise for playing a sex-worker in Hustle & Flow (2005) and a single mother of a disabled child in David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008); for the latter, she received Academy Award, SAG Award and Critics Choice Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress; for the former, she received a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture nomination. In 2010, she appeared in the action comedy Date Night and co-starred in the remake of The Karate Kid.

Henson has also had an extensive and successful career in television in series such as The Division, Boston Legal and Eli Stone. In 2011, Henson starred in the Lifetime Television film Taken from Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story, which earned her a nomination for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie.[3] From 2011 to 2013, she co-starred as Detective Jocelyn Carter in the CBS drama Person of Interest, for which she won an NAACP Image Award. Henson went on to star in the ensemble film Think Like a Man (2012) and its 2014 sequel. In 2015, she began starring as Cookie Lyon on the Fox drama series Empire, for which she became the first African-American woman to win a Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series. She also won a Golden Globe Award, and was nominated for two Emmy Awards, in 2015 and 2016.

In 2016, Time named Henson one of the 100 most influential people in the world. That year, she released a New York Times best selling autobiography titled Around the Way Girl.[4] Also that year, she received praise for her starring role as Katherine Johnson in the critically acclaimed drama film Hidden Figures, for which she won a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.[5]

Early life and education

Henson was born September 11, 1970 in Southeast Washington, D.C., the daughter of Bernice (née Gordon), a corporate manager at Woodward & Lothrop, and Boris Lawrence Henson, a janitor and metal fabricator.[1][2][6][7] She has two younger siblings, Shawn and April.[8] Henson has often spoken of the influence of her maternal grandmother, Patsy Ballard, who was her date to the Academy Awards the year she was nominated.[9][10][11][12] Her first and middle names are of Swahili origin: "Taraji" means hope and "Penda" means love.[13][14] According to a mitochondrial DNA analysis, her matrilineal lineage can be traced to the Masa people of Cameroon.[15] She has said that North Pole explorer Matthew Henson was "the brother of my great-great grandfather."[6][16]

Henson graduated from Oxon Hill High School in Oxon Hill, Maryland, in 1988.[1] She then attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University where she intended to study electrical engineering before transferring to Howard University to study drama.[10][12] To pay for college, she worked mornings as a secretary at The Pentagon and evenings as a singing-dancing waitress on a dinner-cruise ship, the Spirit of Washington.[17]

Film career

Early career (2001–2014)

Henson received her SAG Card in the early 1990s for doing 3 extra roles. Her first prominent role was in the 2001 comedy-drama film Baby Boy in which she portrayed Yvette, alongside singer Tyrese Gibson.[18]

In 2005, Henson was in the independent film Hustle & Flow as Shug, the love interest of Terrence Howard, who portrayed the male lead DJay. As detailed below, she made her singing debut in the film, which was nominated for two Academy awards and won one of those two. In 2008, she appeared opposite Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.[19] Henson acted out the role of Queenie, Benjamin's mother, in a performance that led to an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.[20] She noted in an interview that she gave to Lauren Viera of the Chicago Tribune, "Queenie is the embodiment of unconditional love."[21]

Henson in 2011

Henson acted in two Tyler Perry films, The Family That Preys in 2008 and I Can Do Bad All By Myself in 2009. In 2010, she appeared in the remake of The Karate Kid alongside Jaden Smith. Though critics generally did not receive the film positively, it was a commercial success.[22]

In 2011, she starred as Tiffany Rubin in the Lifetime Movie Network film Taken from Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story. The film was based on true events in the life of a New York woman whose son, Kobe, was abducted by his biological father to South Korea. Determined to bring her son back home, she was helped by an organization for lost children headed by Mark Miller, played by Terry O'Quinn, and they were able bring her son back home.[23] Henson's impersonation of Rubin received positive reviews[24] and earned her several award nominations, including a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie.[25]

In 2012, Henson was in the large ensemble cast film Think Like A Man, which was based on Steve Harvey's 2009 book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. Henson reprised her role in the film's sequel, Think Like a Man Too, which was released in June 2014.[26]

Hidden Figures and beyond (2015–present)

In 2016, she starred in the film Hidden Figures, which became a huge box-office success and went on to be nominated for numerous awards, including three Oscar nominations (Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer) and two Golden Globes (Best Supporting Actress for Spencer and Best Original Score). It won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

In 2018, Henson was slated to star in three films. In January, Henson starred in Sony Screen Gems's thriller-drama film Proud Mary, as a hit woman whose life is turned around when she meets a young boy who awakens the maternal instinct she had never known she had possessed.[27] In March, she starred in the film Tyler Perry's Acrimony, as a faithful wife who, after tiring of standing by her husband, is enraged when she believes herself betrayed.[28] In November, Henson voiced the character Yesss in Disney's Ralph Breaks the Internet,[29] a sequel to Wreck-It Ralph, from the same studio.

In February 2019, Henson starred in What Men Want as "a female sports agent who has been constantly boxed out by her male colleagues. When she gains the power to hear men's thoughts, she is able to shift the paradigm to her advantage as she races to sign the NBA's next superstar."[30] The film was based on the 2000 Mel Gibson romantic comedy What Women Want.[31] In April 2019, Henson will star in the historical drama The Best of Enemies, wherein she would portray civil rights activist Ann Atwater.[32]

Henson was also slated to star in, and also to produce, an untitled film about Emmett Till. Till, a 14-year-old black teenager from Chicago, was abducted, savagely tortured, murdered, and dumped in a river by two white men while he was on a visit to rural Mississippi in 1955. Henson is set to play Till's mother Mamie Till, who chose to make her son's funeral open casket, "So everyone can see what they did to my boy."[33]

Television career

Henson has guest-starred on several television shows, such as The WB's Smart Guy; the Fox series House in 2005; and CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation in 2006. She also starred on an episode of Sister, Sister.[1]

Henson has also been a cast member on several television shows, including Lifetime's The Division and ABC's Boston Legal for one season. Her recurring characters include the character Angela Scott on ABC's Eli Stone. In 2011, Henson was cast in the CBS crime-suspense series Person of Interest.[34][35] In the November 20, 2013, episode "The Crossing," after co-starring for two and a half years, Henson's character, 'Joss' Carter, was killed as part of the series' new storyline direction.[36]

Henson in 2016

In February 2014, several months after her last Person of Interest episode, Henson was hired by Fox to star in Empire, a musical drama set in the hip hop recording industry.[37] Henson plays Cookie Lyon opposite former Hustle & Flow costar Terrence Howard. Fox ordered the pilot to series in May 2014 and the series debuted on January 7, 2015, with positive reviews from critics and wide commercial success.[38][39] Her work as Cookie Lyon gave her widespread recognition and critical acclaim.[40][41][42] In July 2015, Henson was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, and she submitted the show's pilot for Emmy voting. In January 2016, Henson won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama for Empire becoming only the third African-American actress to take home the award after Gail Fisher (1972) and Regina Taylor (1992).[43] At the 46th NAACP Image Awards she was named the 2015 Entertainer of the Year for her roles in Empire and No Good Deed.[44]

In 2015 Henson teamed up with Howard to produce and host a variety holiday special for Fox titled Taraji and Terrence's White Hot Holidays. The special returned again in 2016 and 2017 but only with Henson.[45]

Other work

Henson made her singing debut in the film Hustle & Flow; she there provided the vocals for the Three 6 Mafia track "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp."[17] The song won an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2006, giving Three 6 Mafia the distinction of becoming the first African-American hip-hop act to win in that category.[46] Henson performed the song at the live Oscar ceremony on March 5, 2006, with the group.[47] Additionally, she performed the song "In My Daughter's Eyes" on the 2006 charity album Unexpected Dreams – Songs From the Stars.[48]

Henson has made several appearances in music videos and television. For example, she starred in the rapper Common's music video "Testify" in 2005 as the wife of a soon to be convicted murderer.[49] She also appeared in Tyrese Gibson's music video "Stay" as his love interest.[50]

On March 16, 2015, she was a guest co-host on Live! with Kelly and Michael, filling in for regular co-host Kelly Ripa.[51]

Henson collaborated with MAC Cosmetics to launch the Taraji P. Henson makeup collection in late August 2016. The #MACTaraji collection debuted the following month.[52] In November, 2016 Henson collaborated with MAC Cosmetics again becoming the spokesperson for their Viva Glam Campaign along with Jussie Smollett. Every cent raised goes to help the MAC HIV/AIDS fund. Their collection debuted in February, 2017.[53]

Henson has also had a small career in theatre appearing in August Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone and the Pasadena Playhouse's Above the Fold.

Personal life

In 1994, Henson became pregnant and gave birth to her son Marcell.[54][55][56] His father, Henson's high-school sweetheart, William Lamar Johnson, was murdered in 2003.[57][58]

In 2014, Henson said that her son had been racially profiled by police and that his car had been illegally searched during a traffic stop on October 18 in Glendale, California. A video obtained by the Los Angeles Times showed Marcell had driven through a lighted crosswalk while a pedestrian was crossing, given verbal consent to search his vehicle, and admitted to smoking marijuana two hours before driving. Hashish oil and marijuana were found inside his car.[56] Forty minutes after the video was made public,[56] Henson said in an Instagram message, "I would like to publicly apologize to the officer and the Glendale Police Department. A mother's job is not easy and neither is a police officer's."[59][60]

A supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Henson in January 2011 appeared nude in an ad for the I'd Rather Be Naked Than Wear Fur campaign.[61][62] Henson joined PETA again for a 2013 campaign stating "Be an Angel for Animals." In the ad Henson poses with her family dog Uncle Willie. The ad highlights the issue that, "Chained dogs suffer day in and day out. They are cold, hungry, thirsty, vulnerable, and lonely. Keep them inside, where it's safe and warm."[63]

In February 2015, Henson posed in an ad for the NOH8 Campaign, which supports the LGBT community.[64]

Henson got engaged to former NFL player Kelvin Hayden on May 13, 2018.[65]



Year Title Role Notes
1998 Streetwise Tammy
2000 The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle Left-Wing Student
Satan's School for Girls Paige
2001 Baby Boy Yvette
2002 Book of Love: The Definitive Reason Why Men Are Dogs Date #4/Ghetto Girl
2004 Hair Show Tiffany
2005 Hustle & Flow Shug
Four Brothers Camille Mercer
Animal Ramona
2006 Something New Nedra
2007 Smokin' Aces Sharice Watters
Talk to Me Vernell Watson
2008 The Family That Preys Pam Evans
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Queenie
2009 Not Easily Broken Clarice Clark-Johnson
Hurricane Season Dayna Collins
I Can Do Bad All by Myself April Jones
2010 Date Night Detective Arroyo
The Karate Kid Sherry Parker
Peep World Mary
Once Fallen Pearl
2011 The Good Doctor Nurse Theresa
Larry Crowne B'Ella
Kevin Hart: Laugh at My Pain Taraji Cameo
From the Rough Catana Starks
2012 Think Like a Man Lauren Harris
2013 Madly Madagascar Okapi (voice) Short film
2014 Think Like a Man Too[26] Lauren Harris
No Good Deed Terri Granger
Top Five Herself Cameo
2016 Term Life Samantha Thurman
Hidden Figures Katherine Johnson
2018 Proud Mary Mary Goodwin
Acrimony Melinda Gayle
Ralph Breaks the Internet Yass (voice)
2019 What Men Want Ali Davis
The Best of Enemies Ann Atwater


Year(s) Title Role(s) Notes
1997–1998 Smart Guy Mo'Nique 3 episodes
1997 Sister, Sister Briana Episode: "Two's Company"
1998 ER Patrice Robbins / Elan 2 episodes
1998 Felicity Resident Advisor 2 episodes
2001 Murder She Wrote: The Last Free Man Bess Pinckney Movie
2002–2004 The Division Inspector Washington 14 episodes
2004 All of Us Kim Episode: "In Through the Out Door"
2005 House Moira Episode: "Spin"
2005 Half & Half Gabrielle "The Big How to Do & Undo It Episode"
2006 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Christina Episode: "I Like to Watch"
2007–2008 Boston Legal Whitney Rome 17 episodes
2008 Eli Stone Angela Scott 3 episodes in season 2
2010 The Cleveland Show Chanel Williams (voice) Episode: "Brotherly Love"
2011 Taken from Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story[66] Tiffany Rubin Movie
Person of Interest Detective Jocelyn "Joss" Carter 55 episodes
2014 Season Of Love Jackie Lifetime movie
2015–present Empire Cookie Lyon Main role
2015 FIFA Women's World Cup Herself/Narrator FIFA Women's World Cup Final
2015, 2018 Lip Sync Battle Herself Episodes: "Terrence Howard vs. Taraji P. Henson" pts 1 & 2, "Michael Jackson Celebration"
2015 Saturday Night Live Herself (host) Episode: "Taraji P. Henson/Mumford & Sons"
2015 Live! with Kelly and Michael Herself/co-host March 16 episode
2015 Taraji and Terrence's White Hot Holidays Herself/co-host
2016–2017 Taraji's White Hot Holidays Herself/host
2016 Ice Age: The Great Egg-Scapade Ethel (voice) Special
2017 The Simpsons Praline (voice) Episode: "The Great Phatsby"

Awards and nominations

In 2015, Henson won the Critics Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series (for Empire), and became the first black actress in the history of the awards show to do so.[67]


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