Tomorrow is Proud Mary day! Get your tickets here!
We are less than 24 hours away from the nationwide release of Taraji P. Henson’s hot-looking action film, Proud Mary, and we’ve barely heard a peep about it. This is particularly perplexing given that practically every movie with a female heroine wielding a gun in a slinky outfit gets some kind of reaction online.
Think about it. Films like Red Sparrow and the reboot of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider have attracted countless fans online—and they’re not even slated for theaters until March. Even the just announced Black Widow movie, something that doesn’t even exist yet, has garnered immense online traction. But when it comes to Proud Mary, folks have had to come up with new and interesting ways to drive interest in the film through their own networks because the pressure for films led by women of color to succeed at the box office is staggering. Unlike mediocre white movies that spawn two and three sequels, the box office success of films like Proud Mary could make or break our chances of seeing another one of its kind in the near future (I hate to prescribe to this kind of pressure, but sadly Hollywood history doesn’t lie). This means fans have had to spearhead their own grassroots campaigns—which includes rounding up 20 of their closest friends and carpooling it to the theater.
I can get into a whole thing here about the way Hollywood has historically treated films with leads of color, particularly female leads, and how the industry seems to sabotage them with poor marketing (you should know that Sony, the studio behind Proud Mary, has not screened the film for critics). But I’m not going to go down that road because it’s been said before countless times, and unfortunately nothing can be done about the way it’s been handled at this stage of the game. Oh, and before anyone even takes it here, I don’t buy the theory that every film that isn’t screened for critics is terrible.
All that aside, when I first saw the trailer and badass posters for Proud Mary, I got so hyped. Sure, it’s not every day that we see a woman of color in a lead role in a mainstream movie—much less an action movie—but I was struck specifically by Henson. I couldn’t help thinking about how long overdue it had been for her to headline a film that looks to be a perfect composite of her femininity, power, and effortless ability to deliver some of the best clapbacks we’ve had the privilege of witnessing on screen.
Immediately I think of a show like Empire, which catapulted her from being everyone’s favorite smartass sidekick in films like Something New and sidelined star of Person of Interest to bonafide leading lady. On the “hip-hop Dynasty,” she is fierce, in control, and knows how to straddle both sides of the law and remain unscathed. Then at the same time she’s doing her thing on that show (which, admittedly, I stopped watching a few seasons back), she goes and stars in Hidden Figures in 2016 and delivers a vulnerable yet poignant performance that really should have earned her a second Oscar nomination (her first was for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in 2008).
And now, Henson enters 2018 with a role that may or may not garner her any awards (and at this point, might not even drive the audience it deserves) with the kind of confidence and badassery that some half her age and with far less to lose don’t even embody. Whether or not it marks the beginning of Henson the Action Hero, Proud Mary will at the very least get points for attempting to follow in the path of such films as Coffy, led by the inimitable Pam Grier, that came decades earlier.
So yes, there is a need for more films like Proud Mary to saturate the market as so many featuring actresses like Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett Johannson have done before. But even more importantly, we should be asking ourselves why after years in the business and the variety of performances Henson has given us would she not already have a guaranteed audience that could sell out theaters across the nation just with her name alone—and why Hollywood hasn’t even considered that as a likely outcome. There are a couple of obvious answers to these questions, but we’ll know soon enough whether Proud Mary will confirm what many of us already know to be true about Henson’s star quality or if it will sadly fade into the abyss.