Taraji P. Henson is on a mission: To take her brand global following the success of Fox’s hit show Empire — and her breakout character Cookie Lyon.
“I am tired of Hollywood telling me what black people can’t do overseas and what can’t sell overseas, and black women can’t do this overseas,” Henson says. “Well, I am over there and they know who I am; and they knew me before Cookie.”
Empire debuted in January with 9.9 million viewers and ended its first season run with 17.6 million viewers for the finale, the most-watched show that week, according to the Nielsen ratings.
With Emmy nominations set for July 16, the 44-year-old actress, the 2015 ambassador for the American Black Film Festival, says she isn’t focused on awards.
“That’s not my driving force. I respect the awards, and I am always honored when I am recognized, but that’s not really why I got into the business,” Henson says. “Art is very powerful. It can touch and change lives, and that’s what I am about with my talent.”
Henson recently talked with The Associated Press about Empire and the Texas law enforcement officer who threw an unarmed teenage girl to the ground.
What’s the formula for the success of “Empire” and how the show’s viewership continued to grow throughout the season?
Networks started underestimating the audience. They started believing that appointment television was dead. But we proved that if you give the audience good content they will watch, and I think that is what you are seeing. There’s no special formula. There is no magic trick that we did. We just got an incredible cast, incredible writers; we deal with very diverse subject matter, subject matter that makes you think, that makes you ruffle feathers.
How important is it to address delicate subjects, such as homosexuality in the African-American community?
Well it’s very important to talk about any subject matter that deals with people not being afraid of being who they are. When we are born we do not get the luxury of saying, ‘God, I want white skin,’ or ‘I want to be straight,’ or ‘I want to be a woman,’ you just get what you get, and your journey in life and how you decide to walk through that journey is what life is about and how you’re going to move and affect people through your story.
What can we expect for next season?
They are going to deal with a lot of the past, and this is something that I requested. What happened with Cookie in the 17 years she was locked away from her family? . . . Some people want to call [Lucious] this monster, but people are the way they are because of their circumstances and so we just want to delve a little bit more into how these people became who they are.
How do you feel about the recent situation in McKinney, Texas, regarding the white police officer who drew his gun on unarmed African-American teens and threw a 15-year-old girl to the ground?
I think it is time for people to stop being quiet about what’s going on and stop turning a blind eye to it. People of all color, if you see an injustice happening, say something. They always say it is not important until it affects you, but I do not know what parent in the world watched that video, I do not care what color you are, and did not feel some kind of way. Take race out of it. That’s a girl, that’s a young woman in a bikini and that man slammed her down. ... It’s a big issue; we’ve got to deal with this. I do not know if we are becoming a police state. It’s really scary.