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Unsurprisingly, one of the highlights of the American Black Film Festival last week was “A Conversation with Taraji P. Henson.” Hosted by Gayle King, the NYC event felt like two old friends catching up. Henson was vivacious and candid as she spoke about topics covering almost every part of her life.

The conversation traced her career from its very beginnings back in school, all the way to the mega success of FOX’s Empire. From the moment she crossed the graduation stage at Howard University balancing her son on hip, Taraji has been fighting to reach the top.

She refused to let her pregnancy stop her from graduating because “pregnancy is not a disease,” she said.

Her next stop was Hollywood.

Henson’s determination and unshakeable belief that acting is her calling helped her move though all the hard times. When told by a casting director she was too old to work in Hollywood, she simply replied, “Watch me work.”

Thanks to the success of Empire, Hollywood has finally welcomed Henson with open arms; a distinct change from when Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself was her first big check. After Baby Boy, she knew it would be a long journey until her career blew up.

“It’s gonna take some time and that’s OK…” she said. “And I just remember praying to God and [I] just said I had to get clear, ‘cause it was so many voices. Anger was just coming up in me and I was becoming bitter. I do not want to be her.”

When it came time to talk about Empire, creator Lee Daniels shared a message via text with King:

“…Taraji was my ONLY choice. What’s beautiful about her watching her do her thing when we were working is that she does nothing. It’s all in her eyes. She never acts, she simply is. Her eyes say it all, she doesn’t have to talk. She would have been an incredible silent film star and half the time I wish she was, with that loud mouth of hers.”

Her sights are now firmly set on one goal: an overseas franchise movie. Henson refuses to let Hollywood tell her a Black movie would not be successful overseas.

“I don’t believe that, but see, you’re talking to a dreamer. A person who can make dreams come true because I’m choosing to do that.”

Henson believes anything is possible and based on her incredible career, it seems she may be right.


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