Many of us know Taraji P. Henson from her award-winning role as the straight talking, no B.S. music mogul and ex-con, Cookie Lyon on the hit television show Empire.
But did you know that Henson’s father, a Vietnam veteran who in a dispute with her mother attempted to kidnap her at age four, is her inspiration for the Cookie Lyon character? He also is the same man who played a pivotal role in her life, teaching Henson to fear less and be fearless.
I casually watch Empire and have seen a few of Henson’s movies, but that’s not why I decided to read her memoir, Around The Way Girl, written with Denene Millner. I picked up her book because after watching several of Henson’s speeches and interviews she always came across as just that, an around the way girl.
What is an around the way girl?
She is a regular girl from the neighborhood. Think J.Lo claiming to be ‘Jenny from the block’ but an around the way girl is a female that is real and authentic, which is exactly what Henson appears to be off camera.
In her memoir, Taraji P. Henson doesn’t hold anything back. She talks about life as a black actress in Hollywood and even shares the backstories behind some of her most memorable characters.
One example she recalls in her book is her experience filming the Curious Case of Benjamin Button co-starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. While her co-stars were put into 5-Starr accommodations during filming, Henson was not only paid a lot less, but she also was forced to pay for her own travel and accommodations. She almost quit over it as she thought she finally had made it in Hollywood to star opposite of Brad Pitt and now was being mistreated, but instead she used that anger to fuel her Academy Award-nominated performance as Queenie.
What I love the most about this book is that each chapter is like a how-to guide to being your authentic self. There are some many highlight worthy moments on love, family and following your dreams no matter what obstacles come your way.
I don’t want to give away the book, but here are some of the lessons that stood out to me:
“…my father taught me that there is power in speaking truth to power”
“Never apologize for the journey to yourself or others”
“I haven’t changed much. I’m still so much like the girl I was in elementary school: confident and connected to my own voice. I can only be Taraji.”