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As we continue on, it becomes clear that art often imitates life and while it assists Taraji in her acting it makes for such a cross to bear.
Review (with Spoilers)
Around the Way Girl reminds me of the books politicians release when they are running for president. It is all about marketing, pseudo getting to know the candidate, but only just enough so they can get the nomination and win. In Taraji’s case, I believe as she pursues the various accolades of the entertainment industry, this is her building block. Her, get to know me, but not really, book so voters are not just familiar with her work but her as a person. Since, as can be seen by some of Meryl Streep’s wins and nominations, it isn’t always about the work as it is the person behind it.
Chapter Summaries (with Commentary)
Chapter 4: Hustler
You don’t get to where Taraji is in her life and career without being a survivor. Which if you are from the hood, that means hustling. Now, let it be known Taraji wasn’t a hustler in terms of how many a rap star paid their bills before fame and fortune. For Taraji, her hustle was through working on cruise ships singing, doing hair and nails, and things of that nature. After all, when you have a momma who raised you like a princess, it is hard to give up that lifestyle. Lest we forget, the girl was looking fly since she was in diapers with her hair done, cute little bedroom set, and her mom letting her pick and sometimes make her clothes.
But now Taraji isn’t a kid anymore, much less a teen at this point in the book. She has a car, lives in her dad’s basement and is heading back and forth to Ocean City on weekends. To say the least, she is living! After all, who hustles hard to just make it?
I should note, though, and this is very important, her hustle isn’t just to get paper to pay her bills, part of her hustle also deals with what she does on stage. Hence how she went from a transfer student who was a props person to being part of Mike Malone’s Dreamgirls production. Which, as you can imagine, is a big deal. After all, this is Howard University. As Taraji will tell you, as she often does when given the opportunity to name drop, some of the greats from Ossie Davis to Debbie Allen graced that stage. But speaking on Mike Malone in particular, the reason you’d want to be in his production is the potential of being in a paid gig.
But what really matters in this hustle chapter is the influence of Professor Vera Katz. The reason I say this is, as referenced to in the Loving movie review, many actors use certain tricks or cues to get you into their performance. For Taraji, her cues on stage were talking loud and physically really getting into her performances. With that, I won’t say, for it seems condescending, the average person would whoop, holler, and think she performed like she deserves an award. To Professor Katz though, it is like all she was doing was bringing only what is on the surface in terms of both the character and Taraji’s abilities. Something that we learn influenced Taraji to go deeper. Not just in terms of who she is an actress, but also these characters she often plays who, on the surface, are just another hood rat.
Chapter 5: My One and Only Love Story
Being that Taraji was not only an out there and awkward teen but also bony, especially in comparison to best friend Tracie, she didn’t have the type of dating life you would expect. With that, when she first fell in love, oh she fell hard. To make things worse, as you’ll realize as the book continues, life imitates art and vice versa in her life so often. Take her relationship to Mark. The way Taraji makes it seem, basically he is the Jody to her Yvette. Now, often it will seem Taraji is just name dropping her productions just to remind you they exist, but the more you read the more you are sort of led to wonder if she is trying to, through her work, give depth to the decisions she made and women like her have made. That or help you understand how people who can identify with can live lives like they do.
Though I sort of dog how this book seems like pure marketing, I think that is if you only look at it on a surface level. For, analyzing it, and having to rewrite this overview/ review a 2nd time, I’m starting to realize some things which she isn’t blatantly spelling out.
Refocusing on Mark, she and him are off and on and honestly, all this reminds you of is how, as she notes, while she can play corporate, a Becky, and what have you, at the end of the day she is an around the way girl.
Chapter 6: Single Mother
To say the least, mostly in an attempt to not sound shady, we’re beginning to see with this book that Taraji… oh if I could tell you how many times I rewrote this section. Taraji is in many ways connected to her characters due to her own decisions. Which, thanks to that, you can kind of see why she has been typecasted and stereotyped. For while, as she notes, she can give you Valley Girl Beck and Corporate, and she is a trained actress, you got to allow your imagination to stretch a bit.
Yet, even with that said, you can’t argue against her work ethic and her ability to convince naysayers that she is more than you think she is. For despite becoming pregnant with her son Marcell, and ended up a single parent after a domestic violence incident, she still worked her ass off. I mean, she, pregnant and all, still was able to convince professor Malone to put her in his productions as well as graduate with her degree.
Walking back to that domestic violence note, let it be known that her father Boris, turn the place loose and raise hell Boris, he didn’t hurt Mark. You see, Boris became saved and while that has very little to do with why he didn’t have the right to break Mark’s jaw, the thing is he saw himself in Mark. Hence why instead of sending Mark to the hospital he took him under his wing. The boy needed guidance, the guidance perhaps Boris could have used, and better to give it to him now than let Mark follow the path he did. Cursing and carrying on, making a fool of himself and forcing the mother and child to suffer.
Leaving us with what could be considered the first half of the book. For with pictures being included at the end of the chapter, and there being only 13 in all, so comes the switch. We are about to venture from the college years, the formulation years, to Taraji taking a serious pursuit into being an actress. Venturing to California and all.
Things To Note
This was perhaps longer and better during the first draft, but electrical issues caused that one to be lost and pushed back posting Operator tonight.
All that time, I thought you were fighting and not listening.
— “Chapter 4: Hustler.” Around The Way Girl – Page 87
She was nobody to everybody, but I made her somebody to me.
— “Chapter 4: Hustler.” Around The Way Girl – Page 73
Life Imitates Art & Vice Versa
With the acceptance that this book isn’t necessarily geared in some sort of conversational tone, I have allowed myself to get into it and I have been zooming through. With that said, while it does often feel like reading a magazine vs. a book, I do think saying such discredits what Taraji is sharing. For, in a lot of ways, she is allowing us to understand why some of her most iconic characters are the ones who we’d often identify as people within the hood.
It isn’t just because she grew up in an urban environment, but it is because she is uniquely capable of understanding them. For whether it is her mom, dad, her child’s father or herself, a piece of these characters seems close and familiar. With that, she does more than recite lines but does as Professor Katz says: she goes deeper. She finds the nuance and brings humanity to these urban roles to force the audience to see a person. Not some statistic, not someone to pity or laugh at, but a person who is trying the best they can with the methods they know how, of or is accessible to them. For, essentially, that is what she did and those who she draws from.