Taraji P. Henson

Taraji Penda Henson[1][2] (/təˈrɑːi/ tə-RAH-jee; born September 11, 1970) is an American actress 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 her performances as a prostitute in Hustle & Flow (2005), for which she received a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture nomination; and as a single mother of a disabled child in David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), for which she received Academy Award, SAG Award and Critics Choice Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress. In 2010 she appeared in the action comedy Date Night, and co-starred in the remake of The Karate Kid.

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

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

Henson has also had an extensive and successful career in television, including series such as The Division, Boston Legal and Eli Stone. In 2011, she starred in the Lifetime Television film Taken from Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story, which brought 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. She starred in the ensemble films Think Like a Man (2012) and its 2014 sequel. In 2015 she began starring as Cookie Lyon in 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 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 was praised 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. She has often spoken of the influence of her maternal grandmother, Patsy Ballard, who accompanied her at the Academy Awards the year she was nominated.[8][9][10][11] Her first and middle names are of Swahili origin: Taraji ("hope") and Penda ("love").[12][13] According to a mitochondrial DNA analysis, her matrilineal lineage can be traced to the Masa people of Cameroon.[14] She has said that North Pole explorer Matthew Henson was "the brother of my great-great-grandfather."[6][15]

Henson graduated from Oxon Hill High School in Oxon Hill, Maryland, in 1988.[1] She attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, where she intended to study electrical engineering, before transferring to Howard University to study drama.[9][11] 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.[16]

Film career

Early career (2001–2014)

Henson received her SAG membership card in the early 1990s for doing 3 roles as a background performer (extra). Her first prominent role was in the 2001 comedy-drama film Baby Boy, where she portrayed Yvette, alongside singer Tyrese Gibson.[17]

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. In 2008 she appeared with Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,[18] where she played Queenie, Benjamin's mother, and for which she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.[19] In an interview with Lauren Viera of the Chicago Tribune, she noted that "Queenie is the embodiment of unconditional love."[20]

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 with Jaden Smith. Though it did not receive a majority of positive reviews, the film was a commercial success.[21]

In 2011 Henson starred as Tiffany Rubin in the Lifetime Movie Network film Taken from Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story. It 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.[22] Her portrayal of Rubin received positive reviews[23] and earned her several award nominations, including a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie.[24]

In 2012, Henson was in the large ensemble cast film Think Like A Man, based on Steve Harvey's 2009 book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. She reprised the role in the film's sequel, Think Like a Man Too, released in June 2014.[25]

Hidden Figures and beyond (2015–present)

In 2016, Henson starred in the film Hidden Figures, a major box-office success nominated for numerous awards, including three Oscars (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 January 2018, she 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 never knew she had.[26] 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.[27] In November, she voiced the character Yesss in Disney's Ralph Breaks the Internet,[28] a sequel to the studio's Wreck-It Ralph.

In February 2019, Henson starred in What Men Want (based on the 2000 Mel Gibson romantic comedy What Women Want [29])as a female sports agent, looked down upon by male colleagues, who gains the power to hear men's thoughts.[30] In April 2019, she will star in the historical drama The Best of Enemies, portraying civil rights activist Ann Atwater.[31]

Henson was also slated to star in and produce an untitled film about Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black Chicago teen who was abducted, tortured, murdered, and dumped in a river by two white men while visiting rural Mississippi in 1955. Henson will play Till's mother, Mamie, who chose an open-casket funeral for her son "so everyone can see what they did to my boy".[32]

Television career

Henson has guest-starred on several television shows, including The WB's Smart Guy, the Fox series House in 2005, and CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation in 2006. She also starred in 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 Angela Scott on ABC's Eli Stone. In 2011, she was cast in the CBS crime-suspense series Person of Interest.[33][34] 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's new storyline.[35]

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,[36] where she plays Cookie Lyon opposite former Hustle & Flow costar Terrence Howard. Fox ordered the pilot in May 2014, and the series debuted on January 7, 2015 with positive critical reviews and wide commercial success.[37][38] The role brought Henson widespread recognition and critical acclaim.[39][40][41] In July 2015, she was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, and submitted the show's pilot for Emmy voting. In January 2016, she 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).[42] At the 46th NAACP Image Awards she was named the 2015 Entertainer of the Year for her roles in Empire and No Good Deed.[43]

In 2015 Henson teamed up with Howard to produce and host a variety holiday special for Fox, Taraji and Terrence's White Hot Holidays. The special was produced again in 2016 and 2017, without Howard.[44]

Other work

Henson made her singing debut in the film Hustle & Flow, where she provided the vocals for the Three 6 Mafia track "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp."[16] 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.[45] Henson and the group performed the song at the live Oscar ceremony on March 5, 2006.[46] She also sang "In My Daughter's Eyes" on the 2006 charity album Unexpected Dreams – Songs From the Stars.[47]

Henson has made several appearances in music videos and television. In 2005 she starred in the rapper Common's music video "Testify" as the wife of a soon-to-be-convicted murderer,[48] and appeared in Tyrese Gibson's music video "Stay" as his love interest.[49]

On March 16, 2015, she was a guest co-host on Live! with Kelly and Michael, filling in for Kelly Ripa.[50]

Henson collaborated with MAC Cosmetics to create the Taraji P. Henson makeup collection in late August 2016. The #MACTaraji collection debuted the following month.[51] In November 2016, she again collaborated with MAC as the spokesperson for their Viva Glam Campaign, along with Jussie Smollett, to benefit the MAC HIV/AIDS fund. Their collection debuted in February, 2017.[52]

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

Personal life

In 1994, Henson gave birth to her son Marcell.[53][54][55] His father, Henson's high-school sweetheart William Lamar Johnson, was murdered in 2003.[56][57]

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 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 the car.[55] Forty minutes after the video was made public,[55] 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."[58][59]

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.[60][61] She joined PETA again for their 2013 campaign, "Be an Angel for Animals", where Henson posed with her family dog Uncle Willie. "Chained dogs suffer day in and day out," the ad stated. "They are cold, hungry, thirsty, vulnerable, and lonely. Keep them inside, where it's safe and warm."[62]

In February 2015, Henson posed in an ad for the NOH8 Campaign supporting the LGBT community.[63]

She announced to LiveKindly that, late in 2017, she had switched to a vegan diet to prevent stomach cancer.[64]

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

Henson is a Christian and considers acting to be a spiritual experience.[66][67]



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[25] 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 Yesss (voice)
2019 What Men Want Ali Davis
The Best of Enemies Ann Atwater
TBA Coffee & Kareem Post-production


Year(s) Title Role(s) Notes
1997 ‘’The Parent ‘Hood’’ Friend of Zaria Episode: Fast Cash
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[68] 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"
2017 Carpool Karaoke: The Series Herself Episode: "Alicia Keys & John Legend" [69]
2019 Tuca & Bertie Terry (voice) Episode 10: Sweetbeak

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.[70]


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