n a poignant and empowering speech at ELLE’s Women in Hollywood event, Taraji P. Henson took center stage to express gratitude and share her inspiring journey from overcoming adversity to becoming an influential force in the entertainment industry. With an atmosphere charged with celebration, Henson thanked her fellow women for their resilience and courage, acknowledging their role in propelling her own success.
Addressing ELLE magazine and Nina Garcia, Henson commended the platform for recognizing the multifaceted brilliance of women. She passionately touched upon her personal struggles, emphasizing the importance of defying societal expectations and persevering through challenges, particularly for those who, like herself, emerged from public schools in inner cities.
Expressing heartfelt appreciation for Oprah Winfrey, Henson credited Winfrey’s legacy as a guiding light that allowed her and countless others to dream. Reflecting on her role as Shug Avery in “The Color Purple,” Henson paid homage to the character as a symbol of resilience and rebellion, echoing the spirit of modern-day trailblazers like Cookie Lyon.
Henson’s speech took a powerful turn as she delved into the need for transformation and redemption, criticizing cancel culture and emphasizing the human capacity for change. She shared her personal connection to mental health advocacy through the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, named after her father, shedding light on the importance of eradicating the stigma surrounding mental health in Black and brown communities.
The actress urged women to stand together, emphasizing the inherent power in unity. She called for collective action in the entertainment industry, addressing issues of representation, fair compensation, and the overall treatment of individuals on set. Henson concluded her speech by emphasizing the diversity that makes humanity unique and expressing unwavering faith in the collective power to demand and achieve what we deserve.
To all the beautiful women in here, thank you. Thank you for fighting. Thank you for standing up because when you stand up, you stand up for us all. All of you have inspired me in ways that you will never know, but I’m telling you tonight, you all inspired me deeply.
Everyone, just thank you. Thank you for your hard work and your dedication to the craft and to just being badass women. You all inspire me.
To ELLE magazine, Nina Garcia, thank you so much for recognizing women. And thank you for, you know, this night and celebrating us. You help us to see all the many facets of brilliant, beautiful womanhood. So thank you for this recognition.
If you’re a kid and you, you went to public school in inner cities and the fact that you’re here, you’ve made it, you made it wherever in life, you’re a living testimony because when you’re in a public school, you are in the pipeline to prison.
So the fact that I defeated all the odds, and I believed in my dreams, even when I became a mother my junior year of college, I didn’t let that stop me because I felt my kid was the blessing. And I knew that there were other girls in school who had become pregnant and dropped out. I knew I needed to fight the good fight and finish what I started, not only for the other women to encourage them but for my son because if I gave up all my dreams, then what was I teaching him? I just had to get that off my chest.
And Oprah [Winfrey]: Just your legacy and what you’ve done for women and how you continue to champion women, stand up for us and how you help little girls. You were and are such a huge reason why we are able to dream.
You are steady as the sun, right as the rain, a guiding light for me and countless others: Thank you for all that you do, for showing us how to see and honor the best in ourselves, for supporting and believing in me and for making me your Shug Avery. I didn’t believe I could do it. I’m just telling y’all, I was really intimidated. I don’t sing often. It’s something I can do.
I feel like a kid in a dream. Anyway, at moments like this, when I’m surrounded by so many phenomenal women at the top of their game, I feel like my dreams have come true. These are the things you dream about when you’re a kid with those hungry eyes, when you’re aspiring to be an inspiration, just thank you all.
I felt that every day on the set of The Color Purple with my fellow honorees, the incredible Fantasia and Danielle, I love you…
I’m happy to share this moment with you, and I’m extremely proud of you both, and I’m so happy for you that this is their first feature film coming out the gate, collecting awards. You better!
But when I think about what we are here to celebrate tonight, Shug Avery embodies it all.
Shug was a boss, a rebel, a trailblazer in a time when women were expected to be seen and not heard—to serve, but not think. She was the Cookie Lyon of the 1920s.
I’m proud and honored to be able to represent the dignity of women like Shug and Cookie—women who go against the grain; who defy the systems that were set up to make them feel small and invisible.
And it doesn’t matter if I’m playing a NASA scientist or a sex worker—my message is the same: No matter what we have been through, we can always write a new chapter. Every day that we wake up, God is giving us another chance to make a change. What a blessing!
If there is one thing I hope people take away from this movie, it’s this: We are all capable of transformation. We are all worthy of redemption. That’s why I hate cancel culture. How can you throw a rock when we are all living in glass houses? And we don’t have to walk our paths alone.
I founded the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation in 2018 to honor my father. He came back from the war, and he was never the same. Whenever I talk to other Vietnam [War] vets, they always ask, did he come back with an addiction? Well, yes, he did because you can never go to war and watch humans die and ever be the same.
But what I loved about my father was that it was redemption for him. He was an abuser. He had mental issues, and he was an alcoholic. But every day God gave him breath, he changed his story.
That’s why we can’t cancel humans for being humans. We’re gonna fall. We’re gonna make mistakes. But by the grace of God, He gives [you] breath in your body to wake up the next day and change the course and own your narrative.
At the foundation, we work to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health in the Black and brown community.
Everyone deserves to heal and experience joy. It is our birthright. When we claim that joy for ourselves, we make it possible for others to do the same. Just like Shug and Celie do for each other in Alice Walker’s timeless tale.
Women—Black women—we have to stick together, y’all. Women in general, we just can’t—we are so powerful. There is so much power in this room…And it’s unfortunate that society pits us against each other. The power lies in our togetherness.
I love us. I love women. I love us so much, and I have a really special place in my heart for Black women. I am my sister’s keeper. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I would never talk and put another woman down ever…never on a platform. I’m too classy for that. Yes, women, we are extraordinary, but whether we are fighting for representation on screen or fighting for our fair share of hundreds of millions and billions and trillions of dollars we bring into our industry, we are so much more powerful together.
It may not be the 1920s anymore, but Hollywood has a lot of work to do. We’ve come a long way. We’ve got a long way to go.
So let’s do the work together. Let’s lift each other up. There’s so much going on in this world, and humans, we need each other. We are supposed to be in the service of each other.
God did a very clever thing. He put us all on this earth. He made us all look different, He gave us different backgrounds, different cultures. It is up to us to figure it out, and we can do it.
I have faith in humanity because when you lose faith, and you lose hope, you lose humanity. So let’s use our collective power to demand what we deserve. And let’s make sure that the passion and power we display on the screen is reflected on the set.
Be nice to the crew, take care of them. Be nice to your extras, we need them.
Say thank you to people. Pick up after yourselves. Hang your wardrobe up because nobody wants to look for your socks at midnight when they need to go home to their family.
In service of this shared mission, I’m humbled to accept this honor. Thank you all so much.