Taraji P. Henson tackles gender, work inequality in new comedy ‘What Men Want’

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The actress and singer was born Sept. 11, 1970. She graduated from Howard University with a drama degree. Her breakout film was 2001's "Baby Boy," which starred Tyrese. The Oscar-nominee has worked alongside Brad Pitt, Tyler Perry and more. Her credits include "Empire," "Hidden Figures," and "Acrimony." In 2016, she released her memoir "Around the Way Girl."

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to read someone's mind? Just ask Taraji P. Henson. Her character from her latest flick, "What Men Want," knows a little something about telepathy.

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The movie, loosely based on “What Women Want” starring Mel Gibson, follows Ali Davis, a sports agent who is boxed out by her male counterparts. When she suddenly acquires the ability to hear men’s inner thoughts, she uses her newfound superpower to climb the corporate ladder.

Although the movie—filmed in Atlanta—is a comedy, it tackles serious issues, including gender and work inequality. That’s why Henson says she signed on for the motion picture. She saw an opportunity to uplift women.

“When I read the script, I just thought, ‘Wow.’ It’s so important that we have this dialogue in this film and in this genre,” Henson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Sometimes when you try to get a message across that’s too weighted, people miss it. I like to teach through comedy, because you’re laughing, but you’re also sparking great conversations.”

Just like her character Ali, Henson knows a thing or two about feeling unappreciated in the workplace. As an actress, who’s been in the industry for almost three decades, she’s been lowballed. She said producers have offered her amounts of money that were “embarrassing.”

“I’ve walked away from projects,” she shared. “I don’t have time to be arguing. You either get it, or you don’t. You either see my worth, or you don’t.”

She didn’t encounter that issue with the filmmakers of “What Men Want.” Producer Will Packer, who’s collaborated with the actress for the “Think Like A Man” movies, and director Adam Shankman recognized Henson’s value off the bat.

“People, especially black women, are often valued differently by someone that doesn’t look like them,” Packer said. “I know the value of a Taraji. I know the value of her contemporaries and her peers. I know it in a very different way because of the lens in which I see the world. Other people who don’t see it that way, for so long, have been able to devalue them.”

» RELATED: Taraji P. Henson honored with star on Hollywood Walk of Fame

"I noticed a seismic change when Taraji coupled 'Empire' success with 'Hidden Figures,'" Shankman added. "It turned a corner."

Packer, who resides in Atlanta, believes Hollywood is now shifting because of economic factors. He said audiences are advocating for the people and topics they want to see on the big screen by packing out theaters.

Fans are ready to watch Henson take the lead in a comedy for the first time, he said. And it’s about time. Henson has been waiting for this moment.

“I went to Hollywood to book a half-hour comedy,” she revealed, surprising both Packer and Shankman. “In the beginning of my career, I did ‘Sister, Sister,’ ‘Smart Guy’ and ‘Parenthood.’ Remember that? I was doing a lot of sitcoms, and the next thing you know I booked ‘Baby Boy.’ After that, I kept getting dramatic roles. But if you pay attention, there’s comedic elements in all of my characters, even the most serious.”

Henson is creating a legacy. She just received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in January. During an emotional speech at the ceremony, she said, "Every role that I take on is just as special as the last one, because I know that if I put my all into it and someway this role transforms me, then the audience will be transformed."

She hopes “What Men Want” will be no different. Catch it while it’s in theaters. It’s out now.

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