Taraji P. Henson Urges Black Creatives to ‘Keep Telling Your Truth, Because It’s All We Have’

Rexa Vella

Taraji P. Henson Urges Black Creatives to ‘Keep Telling Your Truth, Because It’s All We Have’

Taraji P. Henson is going to keep telling her truth.

As she took the stage at the 2024 ABFF Honors on Sunday night, “The Color Purple” star pointed to a tattoo on her left bicep that spells out those words exactly: “The Truth.”

“If you are alive and God blessed you with another day to live, it is your job to tell your truth,” Henson told the crowd gathered for the American Black Film Festival’s marquee gala. “Because by you telling your truth, you set yourself free and somebody else free. When we stay quiet, nothing changes. The squeaky wheel gets fixed.”

That ideology is something Henson’s learned to keep close over the years, particularly when it comes to navigating Hollywood.

Late last year, Henson spoke her truth and sparked an important conversation about the unique challenges Black actresses face. She used her platform during “The Color Purple” press tour to call out issues of pay inequity and the substandard services offered to — or rather denied — Black talent in regard to trailers and transportation.

But instead of investigating her claims and searching for the root of the problem with the way the industry calculates actors’ value, internet sleuths invented a feud between her and “The Color Purple” producer Oprah Winfrey. Commenters analyzed the body language between the two, claiming there was tension, until Henson squashed the rumors in a social media post, saying that Winfrey made her “feel heard” in the fight for better conditions.

Since then, Henson was named one of Time’s Women of the Year for speaking that truth and is now filming the Peacock limited series “Fight Night: The Million Dollar Heist,” with Kevin Hart, Samuel L. Jackson, Terrence Howard and Dexter Darden. On Sunday night, Henson stood before a well-heeled crowd made up mostly of Black creatives to accept ABFF’s excellence in the arts award, presented by her “Baby Boy” co-star Tyrese Gibson. In her speech, she explained why she’ll continue to be outspoken.

Before Henson was a Golden Globe and SAG sward-winner and an Academy Award and Emmy nominee, she was just a young woman from Washington D.C. with a dream. And when she arrived on the Hollywood scene, something was off. The stories rarely reflected the incredible Black women Henson knew, and even worse, it felt like the industry was pitting Black women against each other.

‘I am so grateful to have been in this industry for as long as I have because things have changed,” Henson said. “This is what I dreamed of … a world where three or four or five Black women could be nominated for any award or be celebrated at the same time, because we coexist in this world together.”

She concluded her remarks with a message of support for her fellow creatives, urging everyone to fight for their joy, especially in those dark moments when it feels like it’s all for naught.

“[Your joy is] what’s going to give you the ammo to continue to fight,” Henson said. “If you need a soldier by your side, I’m here. Keep telling your truth, because that’s all we have.”

Founded in 2016, ABFF Honors is dedicated to recognizing excellence in the motion picture and television industry. The intimate, non-televised dinner was held at the SLS in Beverly Hills and hosted by actor and comedian Tommy Davidson.

During the three-hour ceremony, Jeffrey Wright accepted the excellence in the arts award (male), presented by fellow acting titan Wendell Pierce. After witnessing Wright get saluted by practically every awards body this season, I’ve come to the conclusion that listening to presenters like Pierce, Leslie Uggams or Colman Domingo wax poetic about him (and watching him absorb their kindness) is almost as incredible as hearing the man speak himself.

Issa Rae presented Kelvin Harrison Jr., her co-star in “The Photograph,” with the Rising Star Award, while Gina Prince-Bythewood was on hand to present her friend Mara Brock Akil as the industry visionary award honoree. Finally, Lamorne Morris and Leslie Jones presented Garrett Morris with the Hollywood legacy award.

“The word legacy, that means, you’re old, which suits me because I was born when the world was flat,” Morris joked before dedicating his prize to his grandparents, who raised him.

“I was born in New Orleans when they were trying very hard to make people like me believe that they were less than inferior,” the trailblazing comedian continued, saying that because of them, he grew up with high self esteem. “I grew up believing in myself. Because of them, I’m here right now.”

The ABFF fan favorite movie of the year was also revealed during the gala, with Cord Jefferson’s “American Fiction” beating out “A Thousand and One,” directed by A.V. Rockwell; “Origin,” directed by Ava DuVernay; “The Color Purple,” directed by Blitz Bazawule; “They Cloned Tyrone,” directed by Juel Taylor; and “The Equalizer 3,” directed by Antoine Fuqua.

ABFF Honors was sponsored by Cadillac, Amazon MGM Studios, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Fulton Films and executive produced by Nice Crowd’s Nicole and Jeff Friday, in association with Suzanne de Passe, co-chairman of dePasse Jones Entertainment and Magic Lemonade’s Rikki Hughes.

For a peek inside the exclusive ceremony, scroll through the photos below:

Kelvin Harrison Jr., Issa Rae and Jeffrey Wright pose with Nice Crowd’s Nicole and Jeff Friday ahead of the ceremony. Gilbert Flores for Variety

Garrett Morris smiles for photographers on the red carpet. Gilbert Flores for Variety

Comedian Tommy Davidson hosts the ceremony. Aaron J. Thornton for ABFF

Andra Day delights guests performing a medley of “God Bless the Child” and “Rise Up.” Aaron J. Thornton for ABFF

Taraji P. Henson poses with presenter (and “Baby Boy” co-star) Tyrese Gibson. Kelvin Bulluck

Gina Prince-Bythewood presents the Industry Visionary award to Mara Brock Akil. Kelvin Bulluck

Lamorne Morris and Leslie Jones present the Hollywood Legacy Award to Garrett Morris. Aaron J. Thornton for ABFF

Jeffrey Wright raises his trophy in triumph as presenter Wendell Pierce looks on. Aaron J. Thornton for ABFF

The 2024 class of honorees clockwise from left): Jeffrey Wright, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Nice Crowd’s Jeff and Nicole Friday, Taraji P. Henson, Garrett Morris and Mara Brock Akil.
Eric Ellis

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