BY WALTER OPINDE
Taraji Penda Henson is an African-American actress and author. She studied acting at the Howard University and began her Hollywood career in guest roles on several television shows before making her breakthrough in Baby Boy of 2001. Penda received praises for playing a prostitute in Hustle & Flow (2005) and a single mother in David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). For the latter, she received an Academy Award, SAG Award, and Critics Choice Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress; for the former, she received a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture nomination. In 2010, Henson appeared in the comedy Date Night and co-starred in the remake of The Karate Kid.
Taraji Penda Henson was born on 11th September, 1970 in Southeast Washington, D.C. She is a daughter of Bernice Gordon, a corporate manager at Woodward & Lothrop, and Boris Lawrence Henson, a janitor and metal fabricator. Henson has often spoken of the influence of her maternal grandmother, Patsy Ballard, who was her date to the Academy Awards the year she was nominated. Her first and middle names are of Swahili origin, with “Taraji” meaning hope and “Penda” meaning love. According to a mitochondrial DNA analysis, her matrilineal lineage can be traced to the Masa people of Cameroon. She has, on a few occasions, said that “the North Pole explorer Matthew Henson is the brother of my great-great-grandfather.”
Henson has also had an extensive career in television in series such as The Division, Boston Legal and Eli Stone. In 2011, Henson Penda starred in the Lifetime Television film Taken from Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story, which earned her a nomination for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie. From 2011 to 2013, she co-starred as Detective Jocelyn Carter in the CBS drama Person of Interest, for which she won an NAACP Image Award. Henson went on to star in the ensemble film Think Like a Man (2012) and its 2014 sequel. In 2015, she began starring as Cookie Lyon on the Fox drama series Empire, for which she became the first African-American woman to win a Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series. She also won a Golden Globe Award, and was nominated for two Emmy Awards, in 2015 and 2016.
In 2016, Time named Henson one of the 100 most influential people in the world on the annual Time 100 list. That year, Henson also released a New York Times best-selling autobiography titled Around the Way Girl. Also, that year, she received praise for her starring role as Katherine Johnson in the critically acclaimed drama film Hidden Figures, for which she won a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
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