In the upcoming film Proud Mary, Taraji P. Henson stars as a deadly hitwoman bound to a Boston crime family who finds her life turned upside down when she accidentally orphans a young boy. The spyfi thriller sounds all kinds of amazing, but according to its star, Hollywood’s still acting as if women can’t carry action films.
Speaking recently to The Hollywood Reporter, Henson, who’s also an executive producer for the film, spoke frankly about the double standard studios still use to approach action movies when it comes to casting women:
“When women get older in this business, they tend to send us out to pastures; meanwhile, you have Liam Neeson, however old he is, still kicking ass in Taken and Denzel Washington, who, at any given drop of a dime, will do an action film. Fuck that. If men can do it, why can’t we? I feel like women get better as we age. Give us the same chances as you give men.”
Fuck that indeed. Every few years, there’s yet another action movie starring a middle-aged (or older) man who manages to take down an entire crime syndicate despite the fact that he’s, you know, a middle-aged dad who clearly isn’t cut out to be a traditional action star. Denzel Washington is 63. Liam Neeson is 65. Taraji P. Henson is a smooth 47—the most believable professional killer in terms of age.
But in addition to its sexism, Henson also called out the industry’s long-lasting problem with race—specifically with studios continuing to believe that films starring people of color, especially women of color, simply won’t perform well overseas. That common belief, Henson said, is a toxic misconception that’s belied by reality:
“[Studios] never expect [black films] to do well overseas. Meanwhile, you go overseas and what do you see? People trying to look like African-Americans with Afros and dressing in hip-hop fashions. To say that black culture doesn’t sell well overseas, that’s a lie. Somebody just doesn’t want to do their job and promote the film overseas. Do you not have people streaming my Christmas specials in Australia?
Come on, y’all! I don’t understand the thinking. Send me over there, and if it fails, then we don’t do it again, but why not try? If I knew this movie was gonna make money domestically, I would try to get more money overseas. It’s business!”
To say that Henson has a point is an understatement. While studios are in the business of making money, and taking even small risks can be a huge gamble, there’s a way in which inaction—like not even trying to market a film overseas—can become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don’t try to market the movie, then people won’t hear about the movie, and if they don’t hear about the movie, then they won’t see it and it will tank. A novel idea: Try. Just try.
Proud Mary opens in theaters January 12.