This piece was originally published on January 11th, 2016 at Slant News
She just went full-on Cookie.
On Sunday night, Taraji P. Henson became the third black woman to win best actress in a TV drama at the Golden Globes. What was even more shocking and buzz-worthy than this rather dismal fact was her acceptance speech.Following the announcement of her win, the Empire star handed out cookies to Lady Gaga, Angela Bassett, and Leonardo DiCaprio as she made her way to the stage. This punny play gained laughs from the the crowd and live viewers.
Henson also proclaimed she would take her well-earned, God-given time on the stage. It was a moment 20 years in the making, and no amount of music could outshine that moment for her. Given the painfully corny, embarrassing, and drunken introduction the crowd and the fans had to endure, I would wager her speech was a breath of humorous fresh air.However, the most resounding portion of this roughly 2-minute moment was the truth bomb she dropped about the practices of Hollywood. She noted it wasn’t her role as Queenie, the nurturing mother to Brad Pitt’s Benjamin, in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or in the remake of the iconic The Karate Kid along side Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, but for backing a former drug dealer and ex-convict. Also, let the record show it the exclusion of her role on Person of Interest, where her talent and character was cut far too soon, should not go unnoticed.Henson’s emphasis on the background of this particular character is important, because it is a common thread amongst characters that have received critical acclaim. Octavia Spencer won her Oscar for playing a maid. Halle Berry won her Oscar for playing the love interest of a racist, white man. Denzel Washington won his Oscar for playing a drug dealer.
Despite these performers having extensive catalogs telling everyday stories like their white counterparts, the roles they are lauded and recognized for are the same stereotypical categories black actors have been placed in since the beginning of cinema.These are actors who take risks with their work, who pour themselves into their characters, and who completely embody them, with careers that have spanned over 20 years and beyond. Unfortunately, this is is one type of character Hollywood deems worthy of recognition. It’s not the father willing to do anything make sure his son lives or the former veteran and attorney turned NYPD detective that shows that American blackness — blackness as a whole — is not monolithic.
as you watch Henson’s speech and you laugh her jokes and cheer for her rare win, use her words to question and examine a precedent that has been unofficially put in place by the powers that be. And have a cooke while you’re at it. They’re on Taraji after all.Cover photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty