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Taraji P. Henson Talks The Importance of Diversity in ‘Annie’ Live

Taraji P. Henson shined in Annie the musical in her dream role as Miss Hannigan. The former Empire star made her musical stage debut in the NBC productions and fans couldn’t get enough. Ahead of the premiere, Henson spoke of being a woman of color playing the iconic role and how Annie is a full-circle moment in her career, considering she majored in musical theater in college.

The Academy Award nominee speaks on diversity in ‘Annie’ Live 

The live production of Annie aired on NBC on Dec. 2 and viewers enjoyed it. Ahead of the premiere, Henson spoke of her excitement of being part of the production and the significance it plays. 

“Growing up as a Black kid, I never saw myself playing in Annie because the world wasn’t ready for this type of untraditional casting,” she told Shadow and Act. “That was never [a thought] but when I was at an HBCU, I got to play whatever I wanted to. That was the beauty of going and studying musical theater at an HBCU. But then in the real world, it’s like, ‘No, I’ll never play that.’ And now wow, here we are in 2021 and I’ve been tapped to play Miss Hannigan.”

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For Henson, Carol Burnett, who starred as Annie in the 1982 film, has always been her role model. She says the project is a full-circle moment for her. But what’s the most rewarding is being able to showcase diversity as one of three leads of color in the live production.

“As a producer and director now who has to pass the torch and discover new talent and being conscious of the projects that I produce and direct, it’s very important for me for those images,” she says. “Because I didn’t have that growing up. I had Molly Ringwald, and the only reason why I identified with her is because she was from a broken family and she was poor.”

Taraji P. Henson’s first love is musical theater

Henson graduated with a degree in musical theater from Howard University in Washington, D.C. Now, Henson just wants to live her dream on stage finally and also do the project justice. Ahead of the premiere, she told Extra: 

I hope I make the franchise proud… ‘Annie’ has been around for a while, you know, and it’s such a staple and a lot of our memories and when we think of cinematography or musical theater, it’s like a staple for all of us… So, I’m certainly down for the challenge. I’m grateful and I hope I make everybody proud.

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She was also excited to show off her singing chops in the production. Though she’s sung before in Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself and Hustle & Flow, she says Annie proves her range.

“Even in I Can Do Bad All By Myself, my voice was…I wasn’t fully singing in that. So for people to actually see me do this live, I think I’ll garner some more fans or another level of respect because there’s nothing like this with me actually singing,” she told Shadow and Act. “With Hustle & Flow, people go, “You’re a singer,’ and I would tell them that’s not singing. I sang a hook [in the movie] and you loop it.” 

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