Taraji P. Henson is a 47-year-old black woman starring in an action film.
Before Friday, you were more likely to glimpse a unicorn than a black leading lady kicking ass and taking names on screen. But with the release of Babak Najafi’s “Proud Mary,” Henson is seeking to change that.
“We can sit here and rattle off men for days, and whatever age they are, they get roles like this,” Henson told HuffPost ahead of the film’s release. “And all of my friends in the industry look amazing. Tiptop shape. They work out. And so why don’t we see more of us in roles like this?”
The actress didn’t have much time to prepare for the physically challenging role, but that didn’t stop her from shining as Mary, an assassin working for an organized crime family in Boston.
“I had to think about the fight scenes as dance choreography,” she said. “Instead of a plie or a pirouette, it’s a punch or a kick or uppercut. I had to throw a 200-pound man over my shoulder. You know, it was just a lot of fun. It was dangerous, though. A couple times I could’ve gotten really hurt.”
In addition to her dance training, Henson had to channel one of the only black women to star in an action role before her ― Pam Grier. As far as leading ladies go, Henson said, the 1970s icon was all she had to lean on.
Now, Henson’s desire is that Hollywood brings more black women into the action-film spotlight ― and not just as sidekicks ― for young girls to “reference for their power.”
“Hopefully, this is the beginning of... something that we’ll see for the rest of our lives, women in these roles,” Henson said. “Cause I think it’s important. And, you know, with the narrative that we’re trying to change right now, the more young girls see women in power like this, the more they say, ‘I don’t have to be a victim.’”
Watch the video above to see more of HuffPost’s interview with Henson.