After the high of attending this year’s Emmy Awards on Sunday in support of her nomination for outstanding lead actress in a miniseries or a movie, Taraji P. Henson took to Facebook and Twitter yesterday to express her dismay at not being included in an upcoming TV Guide cover featuring her cast mates Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson for their CBS show Person of Interest, premiering Thursday, September 22.
“WOW!!!! TV Guide is NOT including me on the cover with my cast memebers [sic]……..I am the female lead of a 3 member cast and I’m not included on the cover!!!!!! Do you see the shit I have to deal with in this business…..I cram to understand!!!!” she wrote.
But Henson’s beef should also extend to CBS. Previews for Person of Interest include her in the filmed photo of the cast and show her in a clip or two but she only speaks in the behind the scenes one. As is the case with TV Guide, the focus is solidly on multiple Emmy winner Emerson and Caviezel, who respectively play billionaire software tycoon Mr. Finch and ex-CIA agent John Reese as essentially crime stoppers in post 9/11 New York where the average citizen’s privacy has been seriously compromised.
Oscar nominee Henson plays NYPD detective Carter who has her eye on Reese. Yet commercials for the series don’t even show her delivering any dialogue. In light of that, how can she fault TV Guide for not including her on the cover? At this point, it is only clear that she is in Person of Interest; her importance to the series has not been firmly established.
When asked about the show and her role in it during an interview at Comic-Con International available on YouTube (2:09 to 2:35), Henson admitted that “Even [in] the first episode, after the pilot, you get to see a little more about Finch and I’m sure they’ll start showing a little more about Carter.”
Yes, it’s great to work with producer J.J. Abrams, the major mastermind behind several television series including Felicity, Alias, Lost and last year’s short-lived Undercovers starring Boris Kodjoe, and Person of Interest creator Jonathan Nolan, who co-wrote The Dark Knight. But substantial roles are so limited for African-American actors, especially on television, that merely landing a role on such an A-list show becomes a victory in itself. It’s hard to fault TV Guide for its cover. As aforementioned, based on the numerous clips available on the CBS website, the stars of the show are, without question, Emerson and Caviezel. So, it’s not egregious that TV Guide did not include Henson. Lack of opportunity is still the main problem for black actors. There are just not that many television shows on the air that truly place black actors in starring roles.
Still, Henson’s role is encouraging. Truthfully, Abrams and Nolan could have easily opted for a white actor instead of Henson. So it should be acknowledged that their effort is a great step of the many needed in the long journey towards more progressive and inclusive television programming.
In light of high unemployment and many of the other ills that the black community faces, television roles may not be deemed important to some. In the 1997 article “Effects of stereotypical television portrayals of African-Americans on person perception,” which primarily examined African-American roles in comedy, published in Personality and Social Psychology Quarterly, author T.E. Ford concluded what what many of us already know: “Television portrayals of African-Americans and other minorities have been shown to influence whites’ perceptions of those groups. Greenberg (1972), for instance, found that over half of the white children sampled reported that television was a principal source for information about African-Americans.”
Therefore, it is critically important that Henson has a dramatic role as a NYPD detective who has done two tours in Iraq, especially since CBS intends Person of Interest to be a major hit. The only lament is that there are fewer and fewer African-Americans in the leading roles of such hit shows. Even the highly-touted Grey’s Anatomy, created by Shonda Rhimes, who is African-American, primarily centers on white characters. That’s why there are such high hopes for Rhimes’ upcoming ABC series, Scandal, starring Kerry Washington.
If TV Guide runs a cover featuring Scandal without Washington then there would be reason for outcry. Washington is the undisputed star of the show. Unfortunately, that is not the case with Henson. So while it’s easy to share her frustration, directing it at TV Guide is futile. Based on the information that they received and no doubt the shows they have previewed, including Henson would not be truthful.
In time, let’s hope that her character does evolve into a heavyweight on the show. For now, however, we just have to accept it for what it is.