And so it comes to an end and while you may not fully get this feeling you got to know Taraji the person, you do feel you got to understand the actress.
Review (with Spoilers)
The book, as noted, is very much part of a marketing plan. Similar to presidential candidates releasing books prior to announcing their candidacy or during the campaign, Taraji is prepping for the Emmys, Golden Globes, and ultimately the Oscars. But what I’ve learned from the latest chapters covered is that this memoir is focused on not you getting to learn about Taraji P. Henson the person, but the formula or ingredients which have made her the actress she is. For whether it was the drive to survive from her mother, the in your face attitude of her dad, the urban environment where many of her characters seemingly could have lived, or her own personal troubles with her ex and what that brought to her life, what you get is the source material to how each character was formed and the who and how for everyone.
Chapter Summaries (with Commentary)
Chapter 10: Building Characters
While established that Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball are her idols, she adds in the great Richard Pryor to her list. Someone who makes the most sense out of anyone she names for she notes how he made silly prancing characters into something deep. Someone who deserves to be explored for while surface level they may seem just made for your entertainment but if you really pay attention, be it his jokes, movies, or his stand-up specials, there is more to meets the eye. Something Taraji beats into our head when it comes to the characters she has played and how they are more than an assortment of around the way girls just trying to make it.
But the real focus of the chapter is committing to the story and character. Leading to once again noting the most influential person, famous or not, in her life: Her dad. To tease her and embarrass her, he would come up with lies and would commit to them so strongly even if they were directly about Taraji, and the situation was only a few years back, she’d question if she did something like eat ants as a kid. With that said, she notes how it isn’t always about the words said, but the intentions behind them. For whether the words are meant to be comedic, to say a lot by saying a little, or just words through body language, you can make something as complicated as you want, need, or are willing to.
Thus Around The Way Girl starts to develop into the book you can imagine Taraji using for her syllabus. If she was ever to teach.
Chapter 11: On Being A Black Woman In Hollywood
Between the words of Viola Davis dealing with the lack of opportunity, to you rarely, if ever, seeing a Black actress on Forbes topped paid actors, this chapter is dedicated to the struggle. For even in Taraji’s non-hood productions like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, as noted across many a blog, she was paid in the lower six figures. On top of that, she had to pay for her own hotel and, because she keeps it classy, she doesn’t point fingers or says she is the reason she was paid damn near nothing, but she tells you up front: It is a take it or leave it type of business. Hence why you got to have more than talent and an enjoyment of the business sometimes. You also have to have faith. For, the way Taraji makes it seem, this BS is normal. Heck, she mentions the BS in a recent Hollywood Reporter interview.
Though perhaps the most telling thing is that, like most Black actresses, outside of Octavia Spencer, things pretty much dried up after her name got associated with the Oscars. Then, of all people, Tyler Perry was the one who approached her. Not only that, the man upped what she could ask for. Sort of reminding you, despite the many issues the Black community, and those who watch films, may have with Tyler, it seems there is some good which comes from his films. Well, at least for Taraji.
Though with, as noted in an earlier chapter, I think, her not being seen for the type of roles which would not only challenge her, but she would like to play, as she should, she made it for herself. Thus leads to her talking about how she got No Good Deed off the ground. Granted, like everything else in the book, there isn’t a huge amount of detail, but as noted this book isn’t about details dealing with anything but Taraji the actress. As for the businesswoman, maybe that will be in a follow-up.
Chapter 12: My Squad
Throughout the whole damn book, we have heard Taraji say the name of probably 60% of the non-white actresses who hover around her age. Whether she speaks of them in praise, by referring to their films or TV shows, or because she has sort of relationship with them. Pretty much, every chapter got a familiar name in it. One thing though which has yet to be done thus far in the book, is us as readers being allowed to develop an understanding of her more famous relationships. Not just in terms of how they developed, but what keeps them strong outside of comradery?
Now, unfortunately, there isn’t much about her relationship with John Singleton and how she met and got cast by him, despite that movie playing a huge role in the book. Nor is there much about her friendship with Terrence Howard or most of the people she has named in the book. But she does mention her friendship with Regina King, who has been a true sister to her out west, especially when it came to making sure someone was looking out for Marcell. She also notes how she went from fan to friend with Mary J. Blige, and makes sure to shout out her cousins who helped her understand the meaning of friendship and seemingly helped her set the standard of all those who would ask for hers.
Chapter 13: Grown Woman
Working into your 40s and beyond as well as finding love. With this being the last chapter, in a way it is sort of a reflection. A reflection that Taraji has made it through so much uncertainty when it comes to her career, who she saw herself becoming, and also her worth to a certain degree. But now she is comfortable, she is secure in her being, and while she isn’t and won’t reveal all of herself, she is still willing to be vulnerable for the right one.
But most of all, she recognizes that she has something to give to the world. A god given talent that even if for some reason how god has preserved her, as her daddy said, she can be like many an actress who isn’t clamored necessarily for their youth, but their talent.
Once You Get What The Book Is About It Excels
As anyone would when they see “memoir,” I was expecting a thorough “get to know me and my story” kind of book. Something which we sort of get, but everything loops back to acting and one of her roles, usually Cookie or Yvette. At first, it bothered the hell out of me for I was comparing this to the various other memoirs/ autobiographies I’ve read. Yet, like she has mostly done in life, Taraji has her own way and style to doing things.
This book is about how A and B = C or, in Taraji’s case, how what happened with this person, and my experience with them, lead to me being able to perform this character or understand my co-star. Which, while at times it may not feel personal, it technical is. She is breaking down how each character she has played or played against has a connection to someone in her life.
I Wish It Was A Bit More Deeper
What bugged me a bit was that we didn’t fully get to learn how things were for her working with certain people. Tyler Perry and John Singleton, for example, I wished she talked about more in terms of meeting them, what it was like to audition for Baby Boy, and maybe even how different it is to work with Black directors and writers as opposed to their white counterparts. Especially considering most of her roles deal with disenfranchised people. Is there a certain nuance or lack thereof, does she feel she has to work the character more when it is Black men or white men? I mean, if things are going to pretty much focus on acting and everything else is just a side piece, why not deep dive?
Overall: Mixed (Borrow)
Unlike Year of Yes, Redefining Realness, and Peace From Broken Pieces, and the other autobiographies on here, Taraji arguably doesn’t have much to say which gives you reason to buy this book for repeated readings. For while her notes and thoughts on acting are interesting and bring a different perspective, when it comes to life advice she is in short supply. I partly want to say it is because of a 3rd party being involved with the writing, but I must admit I feel like it could have just been Taraji’s decision to pull a Beyoncé. She wants you close enough to understand and want to buy the product, but not so close she has no privacy.
Thus the Mixed label. Taraji’s book seems like someone found every article and interview she did and made it into an irregular narrative. Leaving it seeming like a marketing tool for her eventual Oscar run for Hidden Figures, and maybe her next Golden Globe nomination for Empire. Yet, as noted in the Loving review, it does help you appreciate different styles of acting and understanding the depth to how actors draw from themselves to inhabit another being.