Taraji P. Henson

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Taraji P. Henson
-Hidden Figures- Film Celebration (NHQ201612100020) (cropped).jpg
Henson at the premiere of
Hidden Figures in 2016
Born Taraji Penda Henson
(1970-09-11) September 11, 1970 (age 46)
Washington, D.C.
Alma mater Howard University
Occupation Actress, author
Years active 1996–present
Children 1
Awards Full List

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 playing a prostitute in Hustle & Flow (2005) and a single mother in David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008); for the latter, she received an 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 comedy Date Night and co-starred in the remake of The Karate Kid.

Henson has also had an extensive 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 on the annual Time 100 list. Henson also 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 family[edit]

Taraji Penda 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] 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.[8][9][10][11] Her first and middle names are of Swahili origin, with "Taraji" meaning hope and "Penda" meaning 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 is "the brother of my great-great grandfather."[6][15]


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 studied 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]


Henson in 2011


Henson received her SAG Card in the early 1990s for doing 3 extra roles. Her breakthrough role was in the 2001 comedy drama film Baby Boy in which 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. The film was nominated for two Academy awards, winning one. In 2008, she appeared opposite Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.[18] Henson plays the role of Queenie, Benjamin's mother, in a performance that led to an Academy award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.[19] She noted in an interview that, "Queenie is the embodiment of unconditional love."[20]

Henson was in 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. The film was a commercial success.[21]

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 of the life of a New York woman Tiffany Rubin, whose son Kobe was abducted by his biological father to South Korea. Determined to bring her son back home, she is helped by an organization for lost children which his headed by Mark Miller, portrayed by Terry O'Quinn, and with a plan they are able bring her son back home.[22] Henson's portrayal as Tiffany Rubin received positive reviews[23] which 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, 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.[25]

In 2018, Henson is slated to star in the Sony Screen Gems thriller-drama film Proud Mary, playing a hit woman whose life is turned around when she meets a young boy who wakes up the maternal instinct she never knew she had.[26] In 2018, Henson is also set to star in the historical-drama The Best of Enemies, portraying civil rights activist Ann Atwater.[27]


Henson has guest-starred on several television shows, such as the WB Television Network's Smart Guy, playing the role of Mo'Nique (1997–98); 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 Television's The Division and ABC's Boston Legal for one season. Her recurring appearances in television include the character Angela Scott on ABC's Eli Stone in December 2008. In 2011, Henson was cast in the CBS crime-suspense series Person of Interest.[28][29] In the Person of Interest November 20, 2013, episode "The Crossing," after co-starring for two and a half years, Henson's character Carter was killed as part of the series' new story line direction.[30]

In February 2014, several months after her last episode of Person of Interest aired on CBS, Henson was hired by Fox to star in the new TV series pilot Empire, a musical drama set in the hip hop recording industry.[31] Henson plays Cookie Lyon opposite former Hustle & Flow costar Terrence Howard. Fox ordered the pilot to series in May 2014 and the TV series debuted on January 7, 2015, with positive reviews from critics and wide commercial success.[32][33] Her work as Cookie Lyon gave her widespread recognition and critical acclaim.[34][35][36] 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).[37] At the 46th NAACP Image Awards she was named the 2015 Entertainer of the Year for her roles in Empire and No Good Deed.[38]

In 2015 Henson teamed up with Empire co-star Terrence 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 but with just Henson alone.[39]

Other work[edit]

Henson made her singing debut in Hustle & Flow; 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.[40] Henson performed the song at the live Oscar ceremony on March 5, 2006, with the group.[41] Additionally, she performed the song "In My Daughter's Eyes" on the 2006 charity album Unexpected Dreams – Songs From the Stars.[42]

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.[43] She also appeared in Tyrese Gibson's music video Stay as his love interest.[44]

On March 16, 2015, she was a guest co-host on Live! with Kelly and Michael filling in for regular co-host Kelly Ripa.[45]

Henson collaborated with MAC Cosmetics to launch the Taraji P. Henson makeup collection in late August 2016. The #MACTaraji collection debuted the following month.[46] 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.[47]

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[edit]

Henson in 2016

In 1994, Henson became pregnant and gave birth to her son Marcell.[48][49][50] His father, her high-school sweetheart, William Lamar Johnson, was murdered in 2003.[51][52]

In 2014, Henson said her son had been racially profiled by police and that his car had been illegally searched during a traffic stop that 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.[50] Forty minutes after the video was made public,[50] 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."[53][54]

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.[55][56] 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."[57]

In February 2015, Henson posed in an ad for the NOH8 Campaign, which supports the LGBT community.[58]



Year Title Role Notes
1998 Streetwise Tammy Henson's acting debut in a featured film.[59][60]
2000 The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle Left-Wing Student
2000 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
2005 Four Brothers Camille Mercer
2005 Animal Ramona
2006 Something New Nedra
2007 Smokin' Aces Sharice Watters
2007 Talk to Me Vernell Watson
2008 The Family That Preys Pam Evans
2008 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Queenie
2009 Not Easily Broken Clarice Clark-Johnson
2009 Hurricane Season Dayna Collins
2009 I Can Do Bad All by Myself April Jones
2010 Date Night Detective Arroyo
2010 The Karate Kid Sherry Parker
2010 Peep World Mary
2010 Once Fallen Pearl
2011 The Good Doctor Nurse Theresa
2011 Taken from Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story[61] Tiffany Rubin
2011 Larry Crowne B'Ella
2011 Laugh at My Pain Taraji
2011 From the Rough Catana Starks
2012 Think Like a Man Lauren Harris
2013 Madly Madagascar Okapi Voice role
2014 Think Like a Man Too[25] Lauren Harris
2014 No Good Deed Terri Granger
2014 Top Five Herself
2016 Term Life Samantha Thurman
2016 Hidden Figures Katherine Johnson
2017 Acrimony
2018 Proud Mary[26] Mary
2018 The Best of Enemies[27] 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 Elan Episode: "Split Second"
1998 Felicity Resident Advisor Episodes: "Drawing the Line, Part 1", "Todd Mulcahy, Part 2"
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"
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"
Person of Interest Detective Jocelyn "Joss" Carter 55 episodes
2014 Season Of Love Jackie Lifetime movie
2015–present Empire Cookie Lyon Main role
2015 Saturday Night Live Herself/host Episode: "Taraji P. Henson/Mumford & Sons"
2015 Live! with Kelly and Michael Herself/co-host March 16 episode
2016 Ice Age: The Great Egg-Scapade Ethel (voice) Special
2017 The Simpsons Praline Episode: "The Great Phatsby"

Awards and nominations[edit]

In 2015, Henson won the Critics Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series (for Empire), and became the first black actor in the history of the awards show to do so.[62]


  1. ^ a b c d "Taraji P. Henson - Biography". Biography.com (FYI / A&E Networks). Retrieved September 18, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "Taraji P. Henson". TVGuide.com. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved September 18, 2014. 
  3. ^ http://abc7.com/archive/8359122/
  4. ^ Around The Way Girl accessed 11/3/2016
  5. ^ "SAG Awards 2017: See the Complete Winners List". Vanity Fair. January 29, 2017. 
  6. ^ a b Tucker, Neely (October 6, 2011). Henson, spent most of her summers as a child in Scotland Neck, NC a small town in between Rocky Mount and Ronoake Rapids, NC about a hour and a half from Raleigh, NC and 45 mins from VA stateline. "The real Taraji Henson". The Washington Post.
  7. ^ Henson, Taraji P. (January 12, 2010). "Boris Lawrence Henson RIP...I no u got heaven in stitches cause u had the best sense of humor even in your last moments you kept us laughin.". Twitter. 
  8. ^ Oldenburg, Ann (February 22, 2009). "Taraji P. Henson: 'I'll never forget this'". USA Today.
  9. ^ a b Wiltz, Teresa (July 21, 2005), "Drama Queen: Taraji Henson Moved to Hollywood And Smacked It Right Upside the Head", The Washington Post, p. C01 
  10. ^ "Veteran Actors, First Time Nominees". The Wall Street Journal. February 19, 2009.  (subscription required)
  11. ^ a b Galloway, Stephen; Guider, Elizabeth (December 8, 2008). "Oscar Roundtable: The Actresses". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 3, 2014. 
  12. ^ Lanz, Michelle (August 10, 2016). "'Empire' star Taraji P. Henson on the pros and cons of being Cookie". 89.3 KPCC.
  13. ^ Henson, Taraji P. (December 5, 2013). "The Late Show with David Letterman" (Interview). Interview with David Letterman. Worldwide Pants. . Approximately 4 minutes before the end of the show, Henson said that first name is Taraji and "means hope in Swahili" and that her middle name is "Penda, P-E-N-D-A, and that means love in Swahili".
  14. ^ "Taraji P. Henson Ancestry Reveal". The Africa Channel via YouTube. January 31, 2012. Retrieved January 14, 2013. 
  15. ^ Williams, Kam (2008). "Taraji Shares All, Even the Surprising Color of Her Panties". African American Literature Book Club. Archived from the original on November 21, 2008. Retrieved April 13, 2015. Yes, he's my great-great cousin. He was the brother of my great-great grandfather. Matthew would send him letters about his travels while out on his expeditions. 
  16. ^ a b Teran, Andi (February 12, 2009). "Meet the Nominees: Taraji P. Henson". Vanity Fair. Retrieved April 7, 2015. 
  17. ^ "Taraji P. Henson Talks Cookie Taking Over Her Life, Kerry Washington, Baby Boy Sequel, Season 2 Of Empire + More". power1051fm.com. Retrieved March 18, 2015. 
  18. ^ Williams, Kam (December 14, 2008). "Taraji P. Henson: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Interview". KamWilliams.com. Retrieved June 30, 2009. 
  19. ^ MacDonald, Gayle (January 23, 2009), "Benjamin Button Leads Race for What Pitt Calls -- Our Highest Honour", Globe & Mail, Toronto, p. R13. 
  20. ^ Viera, Lauren (December 21, 2008). "The curious case of Taraji P. Henson". Chicago Tribune.
  21. ^ "Taraji P. Henson Interview: The Karate Kid, Beijing Culture and Working for Will Smith". pr.com. June 9, 2010. Retrieved March 18, 2015. 
  22. ^ "Taken from Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story: TV review [Lifetime]". entertainmentrealm.com. Retrieved March 19, 2015. 
  23. ^ "Taken from Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved March 19, 2015. 
  24. ^ "Taraji P. Henson". Emmys. Retrieved March 19, 2015. 
  25. ^ a b "Production starts on 'Think Like a Man Too'". upi.com. May 28, 2013. Retrieved September 19, 2013. 
  26. ^ a b Fleming Jr., Mike (January 11, 2017). "Hidden Figures Taraji P. Henson Set For Screen Gems Proud Mary". Deadline Hollywood. 
  27. ^ a b Fleming Jr., Mike (June 24, 2015). "Empire's Taraji P. Henson And Danny Strong Re-Team On Robin Bissell-Helmed 'The Best Of Enemies'". Deadline Hollywood. 
  28. ^ "Person of Interest: Cast & Details". Tvguide. Retrieved July 9, 2012. 
  29. ^ "Taraji P. Hanson". Buddytv. Retrieved February 18, 2015. 
  30. ^ Snetiker, Marc (November 20, 2013,). "'Person of Interest' mid-season shocker: Taraji P. Henson talks Carter's big [SPOILER!]". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 16, 2013.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  31. ^ Goldberg, Lesley (February 26, 2014). "Taraji P. Henson Nabs Female Lead in Fox's Lee Daniels Hip-Hop Drama 'Empire'". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 11, 2014. 
  32. ^ Gomez, Luis (July 5, 2014,). "Lee Daniels' 'Empire' picked up by Fox, will 'likely' film in Chicago". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 29, 2014.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  33. ^ "Empire: Season 1". January 29, 2015. Retrieved January 8, 2015. 
  34. ^ "Cookie Monster: How Cookie Lyon Became the Most Compelling Character on TV". root.com. February 15, 2015. Retrieved April 22, 2015. 
  35. ^ Alyssa Rosenberg (March 18, 2015). "'Empire's' Cookie Lyon is TV's best new female character". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 22, 2015,.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  36. ^ Harris, Aisha (March 18, 2015). "Just Give Taraji P. Henson the Emmy Already". Slate.com. Retrieved 22 April 2015. 
  37. ^ Callahan, Yesha (January 11, 2016,). "Taraji P. Henson Becomes 3rd Black Woman to Win Golden Globe for Best Actress in TV Drama". The Root. Univision Communications. Retrieved January 17, 2016.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  38. ^ Washington, Arlene (February 6, 2015,). "2015 Image Award Winners". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved May 12, 2016.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  39. ^ Wagmeister, Elizabeth (March 25, 2017). "Taraji P. Henson to Host Second Annual Fox Holiday Special". Variety. 
  40. ^ Swash, Rosie (June 12, 2011). "Three Six Mafia win an Oscar". The guardian. Retrieved July 9, 2012. 
  41. ^ "Three 6 Mafia Oscar Performance". youtube.com. Retrieved February 19, 2012. 
  42. ^ "Unexpected Dreams: Songs from the Stars". allmusic. 
  43. ^ "Common - Testify". youtube.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
  44. ^ "Tyrese "Stay" (official music video) feat. Taraji P. Henson". Youtube. Retrieved March 19, 2015. 
  45. ^ "Scoop: Live with Kelly and Michael Week of March 16, 2015". broadwayworld.com. Retrieved March 18, 2015. 
  46. ^ Hayley Wilbur (24 August 2016). "MAC Cosmetics continues its long history of diversity with Taraji P. Henson collaboration". Mic. Retrieved August 31, 2016. 
  47. ^ Nikki Brown (3 February 2017). "Taraji P. Henson's MAC Viva Glam Collection Is Finally Here". Essence. Retrieved February 3, 2017. 
  48. ^ Boardman, Madeline (March 23, 2015). "Taraji P. Henson Sends Son Marcel to Howard University After Racial Profiling". Us Weekly. Retrieved March 23, 2015.  Note: Source spells son's first name "Marcel".
  49. ^ Brown, Laura (August 13, 2015). "Fortune Cookie: Taraji P. Henson". Harper's Bazaar. Retrieved December 29, 2015. 
  50. ^ a b c Rocha, Veronica (March 27, 2015). "Actress Taraji Henson apologizes to Glendale police for racial profile claims". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on April 9, 2015. Retrieved March 28, 2015. 
  51. ^ "Taraji Henson Talks 'Think Like A Man' and Motherhood". The Wendy Williams Show via BlackRaceKids.com. April 25, 2012. Archived from the original on December 31, 2012. Retrieved October 22, 2012. ...her 17-year-old son... 
  52. ^ "Oscars 2009: Meet the Nominees You've Never Heard Of". Hollywood. 
  53. ^ "#TurningANegativeIntoAPositive #LoveTarajiPHenson". Taraji P. Henson Instagram page. March 27, 2015. Retrieved March 28, 2015. 
  54. ^ "Actress Taraji P. Henson Apologizes For Claiming Glendale Police Racially Profiled Her Son", CBS Los Angeles, March 27, 2015.
  55. ^ "Taraji P Henson Goes Nude Again, This Time For PETA" January 27, 2011, Mrs Grapevine
  56. ^ Weiss, Shari (January 28, 2011). "Taraji P. Henson poses nude for PETA's 'I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur' ad campaign". Daily News. New York City. 
  57. ^ Dinh, Theresa (February 27, 2013). "Taraji P. Henson Steals Her Pooch's Spotlight in Nude PETA Campaign (PHOTOS)". GlobalGrind.com. Retrieved August 11, 2014. 
  58. ^ Doggett, Jolie A. (February 4, 2015). "Photo Fab: Taraji P. Henson Supports NOH8 Campaign for LGBT Rights | Essence.com". Essence. Time Inc. Retrieved February 5, 2015. 
  59. ^ McCann, Bob (2010). Encyclopedia of African American Actresses in Film and Television (1st ed.). London: MacFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 157–158. ISBN 978-0786437900. 
  60. ^ McReynolds, Lynn. "Oscar-Nominated Actress Taraji P. Henson is Host Cathy Hughes' Guest on an All-New TV One on One, Sunday, April 5 at 10 PM". BlackNews.com. Retrieved December 6, 2016. 
  61. ^ Morales, Wilson (January 4, 2011). "First Look at Taraji P. Henson's Lifetime Movie 'Taken From Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story". Black Voices. 
  62. ^ Mannie Holmes. "Taraji P. Henson's 'Empire' Win Highlights Critics' Choice Awards' Diverse Selections". Variety.com. Retrieved 2017-03-14. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Michael Keaton
Saturday Night Live host
April 11, 2015
Succeeded by
Scarlett Johansson