Our Oscary spotlight on Black History Month continues with Matthew Eng on the currently very hot Taraji P. Henson
It’s one thing to nab yourself a lead role on a juicy, mega-hit network drama with a mind-blowing, week-to-week ratings surge. But to be the undeniable breakout star of said TV show, to act circles around your leading man and everyone else on screen, to inspire tepid critics to unanimously single out your performance, to remain the number one (some would say only) reason to tune in, and to snatch yourself an actual catchphrase within the pilot? That’s a whole other heap of achievements entirely.
Taraji P. Henson is having a great year, which is an especially exciting thing to write, because, to my mind, few working actresses (much less working actresses of color) deserve it more. Henson’s such a reliably loose, shrewd, and engrossing performer that she carries a certain kind of built-in assurance for audiences: no matter the part or project, you can be sure that at least one professional has showed up to work and you better believe she will be giving it her absolute all. This kind of noticeable, on-camera go-for-broke-ness can often be applied for better and worse, but Taraji’s almost certainly in the former camp; she knows when to reign it in and how to modulate this quality from scene-to-scene and film-to-film, while remaining an exciting and involving on-screen presence.
It’s strange then and somewhat disappointing that the performance for which Henson received her first and (so far) only Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress for David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is, in many ways, one of her most boring. Had Oscar voters not seen through the fraudulent "supporting" campaign for Kate Winslet, Taraji might not have been there at all for this true-blue supporting performance...