Three Life Lessons From Taraji P Henson’s “Proud Mary”
By N. Ann Hall
I am a Taraji P. Henson fan. I love every character she has played, especially as Cookie in Fox’s Empire. She always exhibits a level of sincerity, grit and tenacity as an actress. For me, her characters are always very relatable and multi-dimensional. She’s like your favorite cousin, keeping it real auntie, friend that has your back. When I saw Sony/Screen Gems’ thriller action Proud Mary last weekend, I was again impressed with Taraji. But not because the film was great.
I did enjoy the movie, but Proud Mary was not a box office hit, grossing about $14 million by its second weekend amidst projections of $20 million in its opening weekend, and debuting in eighth place as a box opener. The movie, however, broke even so that’s always a good thing, especially since Taraji has executive producer credits.
There were elements of the film that were lacking (production quality could have been better, writing could have been tighter, would have liked a better build up in beginning and more action in the middle, maybe her face off with another female — something her Cookie character does flawlessly), and several character’s acting were not up to par (what was up with Danny Glover and Billy Brown). But looking beyond all of that to focus on Taraji’s character, Mary, she performs entertainingly (albeit stereotypical) as a fearless, bad-ass, gun-toting female assassin showing maternal instinct, empathy, and survival skills in protecting Jahi Wilson’s character, Danny, the son of one of her victims.
As a sparse movie goer but avid supporter of black women-led roles, I always look beyond the entertainment aspect of films and focus my understanding on the character’s backstory and its reflection of societal norms, values and beliefs. Mary’s backstory was not fully developed, but the storyline was clear enough to ascertain that she was an orphan taken in by a crime family who had an encounter that woke her up. She decided to reclaim her life, her goals and dreams while also giving Danny a chance to experience maternal love, hope and stability. Trying to regain control from a patriarchal environment is a familiar script that many women face in navigating their lives, but just like a bad movie, there are always some take-aways worthy of any experience.
- Trust your gut. Mary’s career choice was more about survival that desensitized her actions and ruled her life. But when she saw the kid in her mark’s home obliviously playing video games, her instincts told her it was time to move on, but not without curiosity or concern of who she was leaving behind. She thought about the kid often and checked up on him. She recognized that a change in life was due. As women, we have a unique gift and often know when we are in a bad job, have toxic relationships, and make unhealthy life choices. We must remember that it is our divine nature to trust our gut and know when it’s time to make change to do the right thing, not only for ourselves, but often for others. Let’s not ignore that nagging feeling or sign that we know is meant to get our attention.
- Be willing to start over. The organized crime family decided Mary’s destiny was assassinating folks. It took her orphaning a child to realize her life was more valuable than that, so she decided on a re-do, to live life differently, and on her own terms. A re-do can happen at any time, age or stage in life but a person must be willing to let go of the past and anything negative weighing them down. Unlike in the movie, I am NOT suggesting being extreme and taking out an entire family, but there is no shame in distancing yourself from people who keep you in a bad place because of their lifestyle, actions, dysfunction, and/or attitudes. It is possible to outgrow people and move on, especially after we’ve learned the lesson they were in our life to teach.
- You can always make a difference. Danny needed Mary in his life as much as she needed him. She learned that his mother left him and he felt abandoned, and that his father was not a good guy. Just the little bit of compassion she showed to him softened him to know that he mattered to someone. We never know someone’s story and the impact that life has had on them. Kids do become the adults we interact with and it’s the sincerity and small kindnesses that can make a difference, like a smile, holding the door for the person behind you, a quick email, text or phone call to let someone know you were thinking about them, an authentic compliment, or just paying it forward in your own unique way with the expectation of only good karma from the Universe.
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