Oscar- and Emmy-nominee (and six-time BET Award winner) Taraji P. Henson will be back to host the 2022 BET Awards when the annual show broadcasts live from the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles on June 26.
Explaining why she agreed to emcee “Culture’s Biggest Night” for the second year in a row, Henson told Variety that it all comes down to her love for performing live.
“Live theater is where I thrive. It’s a different muscle to work than acting, and I really enjoy it,” Henson said. “I love the synergy between me and the audience. I love the call and the rapid response. You know if a joke works because it’s instant, as opposed to being on set and we have to wait until they go, ‘Cut!’”
After saluting the Black women blazing trails in the entertainment industry during the 2021 ceremony, the pendulum swings toward Hollywood’s Black men for the 2022 edition.
“For me, it’s all about balance,” Henson explained. “We shone a light on the incredible Black women, and this year we need to uplift our men.”
The centerpiece of that mission comes with honoring Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs with the BET Lifetime Achievement Award.
“He’s getting his flowers,” Henson said of acknowledging Combs. “I thought it would be a great opportunity to lift him up and to lift up all those men that he’s inspired and those who have inspired him.”
The rap trailblazer turned media mogul joins an elite group of entertainers who’ve received the award, including recent honorees Mary J. Blige, Anita Baker, New Edition, Samuel L. Jackson and Smokey Robinson, with the late Whitney Houston as the first artist to accept the prize in 2001. Combs follows Queen Latifah, who was honored in 2021.
Delving deeper into what makes Combs so deserving, Henson declared, “Nobody has hustle like Puffy. That man knows how to make things happen. He has drive; he has passion. If ‘I can make my dream come true’ were a person, he would be it.”
And Combs’ belief in himself has trickled down to all those who’ve watched him succeed, including Henson. “It’s literally you affirming yourself,” she noted. “He taught us all how to do that. How to build a brand, how to expand, how to use all of your talents.”
In addition to honoring Combs, the BET Awards boasts an all-star lineup of nominees and performers. When asked who she’s most excited to see, Henson squealed, “Babyface is going to be there!”
Other performers include Lizzo, Jack Harlow, Roddy Ricch, Chance the Rapper, Chlöe, Doechii, Ella Mai, Fireboy DML, Giveon, Joey Bada$$, Maverick City Music x Kirk Franklin, Latto, and Muni Long, as well as up-and-coming artists GoGo Morrow and OGI performing on the BET Amplified Stage, with more artists to be announced. Top nominees at the ceremony include Doja Cat (who leads the pack with six nods), Ari Lennox and Drake (tied with four apiece).
Connie Orlando, BET’s executive VP of specials, music programming, music strategy and news, is overseeing the production of the show, alongside Jesse Collins, CEO of Jesse Collins Entertainment. Collins, Dionne Harmon and Jeannae Rouzan-Clay serve as executive producers, with BET’s Jamal Noisette as co-executive producer.
After successfully hosting the BET Awards in 2021, Henson has further strengthened her ties to the network, inking an overall deal with BET Studios and setting up a new limited series “Queenie,” in which she’ll star and produce under her TPH Entertainment banner.
“The reason why I went to BET is because that’s my community,” Henson said of the partnership. “BET has been such a great part of my career — keeping me relevant and keeping my fans in touch with me by playing movies that I’ve done over and over, like ‘Baby Boy.’”
Beyond that, she proclaimed, “I just want to be where I’m celebrated and not tolerated; where I have these incredible ideas and they don’t just put them on the shelf. [BET is] interested in bringing my dreams to making them a reality. They understand the messaging I’m trying to get across to our audience and they’re behind it. The support is just beyond. I’ve never had this kind of support anywhere.”
For example, Henson had been shopping “Queenie” to a number of studios before BET snatched the project up. The limited series tells the true story of Stephanie St. Clair, otherwise known as the “Godmother of Harlem,” who was the most profitable female numbers banker in 1920s and ’30s New York.
While Harlem kingpins Frank Lucas and Bumpy Johnson have gotten the Hollywood treatment with high-profile projects starring Denzel Washington (“American Gangster”) and Forest Whitaker (“The Godfather of Harlem”), Henson pointed out that audiences are largely unaware that there was a godmother on the block first.
“She is the reason why they were able to exist, and we don’t even know her story,” Henson explained. “I took [the project] to BET and right away, they were like, ‘We want it.’ The older I get, I’m tired of fighting, and begging, and pleading. I want to be where people get it; they get me.”
From their side of the table, it makes great business sense for BET to fortify their relationship with Henson, who is particularly in demand now. In fact, the star conducted this interview with Variety while on a break from filming the highly-anticipated musical update to “The Color Purple.”
“It’s been magical,” Henson said of working on the musical movie. “It’s been one of the most beautiful projects that I’ve ever worked on.”
In Feb., Variety exclusively announced that Henson would play jazz and blues singer Shug Avery, introduced as Mister’s long-time mistress before becoming Celie’s confidant. Henson appears alongside an impressive ensemble, including Fantasia, Danielle Brooks, Corey Hawkins, Colman Domingo, H.E.R., Aunjanue Ellis, Ciara, Halle Bailey, Jon Batiste, Deon Cole, Tamela Mann, Elizabeth Marvel, David Alan Grier and Louis Gossett Jr.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Black people look so beautiful, in a time that wasn’t easy for Black people,” she observed. “It showcases how resilient we are as a people. No matter what you do to us, no matter how you try to oppress us, we are going to find our joy.”
Despite the trauma and pain depicted in the film, this version “leans more into the joy,” Henson noted. “That’s what’s so miraculous about us as a people: we can find a joke, we can find our joy. And in finding our joy, give the world some of it.”
Directed by Blitz Bazawule from a screenplay by Marcus Gardley, the musical movie adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel, follows Steven Spielberg’s 1985 movie and the long-running and Tony-winning Broadway musical. The film is expected to hit theaters on Dec. 20, 2023.
Henson takes on the songstress character after showing off her singing chops in NBC’s “Annie Live,” where she starred as Miss Hannigan. Henson conceded that it’s been “interesting” to book the two singing parts in quick succession, because she tried “run from the singing thing” earlier in her career and thought she’d missed her shot.
“My father was such a huge champion of my talent as an actor. Before he passed, he’d say, ‘You’re one of the greatest actors alive, but wait until the world hears you sing,’ and I shrugged it off,” she recalled. “Because at the time, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m not going on tour. I’m a mom. It’s too late.’”
But landing these roles at this point in her career has reinforced the adage, ‘What’s for you will find its way to you,” Henson shared. “Even when you try to hide from it.”
The 2022 BET Awards airs Sunday, June 26 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on BET.