Taraji P. Henson memoir reveals myriad challenges she has faced

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Actress Taraji P. Henson arrives for the 68th Emmy Awards on September 18, 2016 at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles. / ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

The title for Taraji P. Henson’s memoir, “Around the Way Girl,” couldn’t be more fitting. The turn of phrase LL Cool J used to describe a real woman who “ain’t scared to do her thing” in his 1990 hit of the same name describes the Empire actress to a P.

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In her book, penned with Denene Millner (Atria/37 INK), Henson writes candidly about the challenges she’s faced and how she’s overcome them, such as when she went into “Single Mom Hustle Mode” when Idris Elba needed convincing to join her in the 2014 flick “No Good Deed.”

Of course it’s hard to forget Henson is revered for her role as Cookie Lyon, for which she’s received a Golden Globe. Even so, the reader never wonders if Henson will overcome each challenge, but how the scrappy actress will MacGyver her way out of whatever plight arises. Here are a few obstacles Henson has overcome:

A domestic violence incident

Henson was a 24-year-old junior at Howard when she became pregnant. In her memoir, Henson tells the story of her tumultuous relationship with her son’s father, Mark. At one point, during a dispute, he became physically abusive.

“I whooped. He whooped,” Henson writes. “Then, the next thing I knew, Mark’s balled-up fist was coming straight for my face. I fell onto the bed crying and holding my mouth; blood seeped off my lips and across my teeth, washing a nasty, bitter, metallic taste over my tongue.”

Henson ended their relationship after that fight, but Mark learned to deal with his anger and remained a part of the child’s life until his death in 2003.

Having a role written for her go to Naomi Watts

Henson doesn’t shy away from the topic of race in her book. She talks about her son’s first brush with prejudice in kindergarten, along with her own personal experiences, and includes a chapter titled, “On Being a Black Woman in Hollywood.”

“Time and again, I’ve lost roles because someone with the ability to green-light a film couldn’t see black women beyond a very limited purview he or she thought ‘fit’ audience expectations,” Henson writes. As an example, she shares that the role of the pregnant Russian stripper in St. Vincent was written for her by the film’s screenwriter and director, Theodore Melfi, but was filled by Naomi Watts.

“It was a meaty gig,” Henson writes. “I would have loved it. Alas, I couldn’t get served at that particular restaurant.”

Taraji P. Henson (left) stars as Queenie and Brad Pitt (right) stars as Benjamin Button in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

Taraji P. Henson (left) stars as Queenie and Brad Pitt (right) stars as Benjamin Button in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

Her low salary for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

Though Henson was nominated for an Academy Award in the best supporting actress category, she says she received “the equivalent of sofa change” compared to the salaries of co-stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Henson was unpleasantly surprised by her paycheck which was near “the lowest of six figures” and the fact that she had to foot her own hotel bill for three months.

Henson says she put aside her disappointment and focused on her acting. “When I did that, my performance of Queenie became transformed into a spiritual awakening, not just for me but also the audiences who watched the film and cheered my performance.”

Erin Jensen, USA TODAY

NOTE: “A Conversation with Taraji P. Henson,” featuring a sneak peek at clips from her upcoming film “Hidden Figures,” will take place at 8:30 p.m. Oct. 23 at AMC River East, 322 E. Illinois, as part of the Chicago International Film Festival’s Black Perspectives series. For more information and tickets, visit chicagofilmfestival.com

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