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Off to Hollywood Taraji goes, with Marcell right with her, and so begins her career. Alongside that we are treated to some insight into the difficulty of being a single parent actress, especially to a Black son, and bringing more to the characters she plays than the average person would.
Review (with Spoilers)
Chapter Summaries (with Commentary)
Chapter 7: Going to Hollywood
With Taraji graduating comes the question of what is next? She is a single mother, she does have some support from her folks, but not an exuberant amount, so what is she to do? Well, as many times before, when things got rough she put acting to the side and then her father pushed her to pick it back up. This time he planted the seed for her to head out to Hollywood since they had family out there.
Now, while Taraji don’t mention it too often, it is made clear that family is important to her and while she was going to have access to one of her family members, that person wasn’t her mom or dad, her grandmother down south, and it isn’t made to seem someone she was too familiar with. Yet, there is something about ole’ Boris. As much as, when she was a child, one would think Taraji had her dad wrapped around her little finger, as an adult the opposite was true. For while the girl is stubborn, her dad only had to plant a thought to get Taraji rowing. So, out to cali she goes and she brings her son and hustler spirit with her.
Leading to the topic of getting a SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card. In a previous chapter it is established that the treatment of those on set with a SAG card and those without is very different. Even if you are just an extra. So Taraji has made it a point, especially if she got say so, to make non-SAG card carrying members feel welcome and not segregated. With that said, getting that card is a piece of work. On top of getting three roles as an extra you, back in the mid-90s, had to pay a $1,100 fee. Something which, unless you were getting consistent work, who knows whether that was something easy to pay. For never mind living out in Hollywood isn’t cheap, but getting a job that pays decent wages to supplement your career and is flexible so you can audition? Pshh, Taraji may have found a way but she makes it all seem more like luck than the skill of her hustle.
Which, I must admit, is something which slightly bugs me. Now, granted, Taraji is a religious woman so she will give credit to her god for everything, but the further along we go, the more it feels we are missing details which can’t be funny anecdotes. But, as said in the last review, I have moved on and accepted this book for what it is.
Chapter 8: Raising a Black Boy
When it comes to Taraji’s personal life, it seems the only man in it is Marcell and her father. Outside of those two, there is Mark to a certain degree, but only to a certain point in time. Hence why nearly an entire chapter is dedicated to Marcell, his upbringing, and the issues which come with raising a Black young man in America. Which, I got to admit, made for perhaps one of the most boring chapters thus far. If only because nothing insightful or interesting comes from Taraji’s commentary. It is a peer into what a Black mother goes through and worries about, but it doesn’t have the same panache like when Shonda Rhimes was speaking about motherhood.
Now, granted, the comparison is a bit apples and oranges for Shonda Rhimes doesn’t speak on racial injustice when it comes to her children. For her, since her oldest is her daughter, the conversation is around female empowerment. But, the point I’m trying to make is Taraji doesn’t say anything you haven’t already heard and even with her own way of speaking, she doesn’t craft Marcell’s confrontations in such a way which brings some type of new nuance.
However, one thing that was interesting, aside from art imitating life once again, when it comes to Mark’s death, is her speaking about going to therapy with Marcell. With this, unfortunately we once more aren’t given the type of information which is insightful or could be the rare noting of how there should be no shame in Black folks going to therapy. However, it does begin the process of her humanizing Marcell and reminding us that as much as he is her little angel, there were some tough times raising him. Heck, she even put him out of the house once! But, in the end, after the death of his father when he was 9 and his teenaged hormones subsided, he went back to being that kid with the infectious smile and the light of her life.
Chapter 9: Breathing Life Into Art
As established, Taraji’s life is what brings depth to her art. The death of her father in February 2006 influenced her performance as Queenie in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and the death of her cousin in January 2007 affected it too. You see, as anyone who ever watched a interview featuring any actor might be familiar with, acting is often channeling something. You channel a memory, a person, and through them you find your character.
It was previously mentioned (in the Chapter 4 summary) how Taraji has the unique ability to take urban, or even hood rat, characters, and bring them life. The reason she is so good at this is because she digs, she experiences, reflects, and really lets that character get into her head. Not in a method actor way, but be it Cookie or the many other iconic roles she is known for, and based off how she explains her methods in this book, she doesn’t try to play up some little tick and make that the end all. No. As professor Katz pushed her to, she goes deeper and she asks questions. That is why when she takes on these roles, these roles which sometimes strike fear into her because of not only typecasting but because sometimes they are too real, she does so well. For if there is one thing which you can’t help but love about Taraji is that she may be poised and polished in a photoshoot, but once that is over she is loud, brash, and like what you see very few actors, or performers in general, be like in public. Especially while there is a camera on them and they don’t have any lines to recite.
Acting is communication, not only person to person, but soul to soul-a physical, emotional, and certainly spiritual expression.
— “Chapter 9: Breathing Life Into Art.” Around The Way Girl – Page 171
Name Dropping but No Establishing of the Relationship
At this point, I find it amusing how she notes how she knows this person, calls that person when Mark died, yet it isn’t made clear how she met these people, how they built their relationship, and it is frustrating. Not that she needs to spill the beans, per se, but with the people she names being people of color, including women of color, it would have been nice to hear about how she forged relationships with those who she was competing for roles against. Then, in terms of her relationship with John Singleton, considering how much Baby Boy is mentioned throughout the book, I would have loved to hear how those two met, bonded, how the audition process was, and how filming was. Especially since she makes it out to be her life story up to a certain point.
On The Fence
With the exception of Mark and Boris, and the plight of her mom a bit, it seems whatever issue Taraji has in her life is just for that chapter. Be it transferring into a different college, finding work, or anything of that nature, it begins one chapter and usually ends in the same one. On occasional it may spill over into the next, but very few things are really let to simmer to the point they can really develop and, for a lack of a better term, expose Taraji and really let you feel we are getting past her shell. For even with talking about Mark’s death, her father’s, and her cousin’s, there is this unshakeable and nagging feeling that she isn’t going deep enough. Which isn’t me saying she needs to dramatize them, but it does feel like between recounting them as simple facts and dramatizing them, she is picking the safest and shortest road possible.