Taraji P. Henson Comes Full Circle: From Singing “Proud Mary” As A Waitress To Leading Lady In #ProudMaryMovie

proud mary promo photoTaraji P. Henson is a badass in real life and portrays one in her latest flick, Proud Mary. Proud Mary, officially released in theaters today [Jan. 12], is the action-packed tale of a skilled – albeit reluctant – assassin named Mary who ultimately fights for the family she chose and not the one that chose her.

Known for her iconic portrayals in Baby Boy, Hustle & Flow, Hidden Figures, and FOX’s Empire as “Cookie Lyon,” Proud Mary marks Taraji’s first leading role in an action thriller. A role that many almost missed out supporting – and unfortunately, still might.

I remember seeing the trailer for Proud Mary months ago during a film preview. That was my first and last time before this week, when promo ads started popping up in between my Youtube videos (and interrupting my beloved YouTube DJ time). The award-winning actress had been making her media circuit rounds leading up to the release, but that didn’t stop Black Twitter from going in on Sony’s questionable lack of promotion.

Thursday night showing of Proud Mary at Harper Theater in Chicago.

Truth be told, I wasn’t too excited to see Proud Mary when I first saw the trailer. What got me excited and to the theater last night at 10:20 pm for a field trip on a cold Chicago night to see the city’s first showing was what I read in her 2016 memoir, Around the Way Girl. She was ‘proud Mary’ long before this film ever came out.

I selected Taraji’s book to kick off the 2018 reading season of my book club and book-based talk show, One Nightstand Books with Sandria. At the time when I selected it as the January book of the month I didn’t even remember that Proud Mary was coming out. I just knew I wanted to start 2018 reading about someone who symbolized what I wanted to bring more of into my new year: Bold. Fearless. Self-defined. Fly. Relentless. Growing. Authentic. Taraji P. Henson is all of that and more.

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Reading through her story, which starts from the humblest of beginnings in Washington, DC, I had a I’m-finna-throw-this-book-across-the-room-because-look-at-God! moment when I read about Taraji’s early days as a singing/dancing waitress on a boat. Her signature song? Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.”

After talking about hustling as a college student, “hooking up wet sets and acrylic nails for extra cash,” Taraji shares in her book:

“When I wasn’t supplying everyone’s beauty needs, I was talking drunk diners out of tips as a singing waitress on the Spirit of Washington, a dinner barge that floated down the Potomac River. I made a killing singing my signature song, Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.” – p. 68

Bruh. When I tell you the tears started forming instantly.

But, then she goes on to write:

“It was a great job for an artsy person with an outgoing personality and a thirst for the spotlight and an easy dollar. On a typical night, I pulled in one hundred dollars – a lot of money for a college student.” – p. 69

This woman went from singing and dancing “Proud Mary” on a dinner boat for maybe $100 a night, to starring in and executive producing a major motion picture of the same name (sorry not sorry John Fogerty). THIS! Although the budget for Proud Mary was a modest $14 million, the #GlowUp inside this accomplishment is no less huge.

I took to my Facebook Live on Monday to encourage folks to see the film if for no other reason than to support this full-circle moment.

Full circle moments remind us that even when it looks or feels like we’re not on the path, we always are. The circumstances of our lives and everything we go through may not make complete sense in the moment, but like Common said, “One Day It’ll All Make Sense.” The puzzle pieces will come together and you’ll see the bigger picture. Maybe even on a big ass movie screen in front of millions.

All of Taraji’s early years training in dance and performance helped her to execute the film’s incredible stunts. She’s doing at 47 years old what most of any age would struggle with. She was born for this and God prepared her accordingly.

The years of hustling for money pre-fame and not getting top billing in films are no more. She’s proven herself as a A-List caliber actress and continues to evolve.

Now, I’ve never met Taraji, never interviewed her, no real personal connection at all and this full-circle moment felt huge even for me. I was curious if it hit her, too. In a recent exclusive interview with BET, Taraji confirmed that the full-circle moment isn’t lost on her. “I’ve never met Tina Turner but I have her pictures framed in my house. She’s everything to me. She is such a hero, such a heroine. I used to sing ‘Proud Mary’ when I was a singing/dancing waitress on The Sprit Of Washington. It was my solo. It’s funny how life comes full circle. It’s crazy.”

As mixed reviews continue to come in today and over the weekend, I simply say go see the movie for yourself. Regardless of how you walk away feeling about Proud Mary the movie, be proud of Taraji P. Henson. Clap for her. She’s come a long way.

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