Proud Mary might not be that proud after all.
The Taraji P. Henson-starrer was one of the year’s most anticipated films when the trailer dropped last year. Henson’s turn as Mary, a hitwoman working for an organized crime family in Boston, seemed like the black response to Atomic Blonde—that is until this year rolled around, where it seems like Sony and Screen Gems have completely dropped the ball on promoting it.
Proud Mary is out this Friday, and social media has been flooded not with excitement for the film but confusion as to why it’s not being pushed harder. Is it a case of a studio underselling a black film, as is customary in Hollywood? Or does Sony want to hide the fact that the film might not be very good?
It’s not screening for critics this week, so don’t expect any advance reviews of Proud Mary. Furthermore, critics attending the film’s press junket weren’t allowed to screen the film first, so interviews with Taraji will have to remain vague as it’s a little hard to discuss a film that you haven’t seen yet with an actress.
Henson herself has even voiced frustration with the promotion of the film.
In a pre-Christmas interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Henson said she’s been “begging and pleading my connections and doing whatever I can to make this movie the best it can be. I don’t just put my name on stuff just to say it; I get down and dirty. [Studios] never expect [black films] to do well overseas. Meanwhile, you go overseas and what do you see? People trying to look like African-Americans with Afros and dressing in hip-hop fashions. To say that black culture doesn’t sell well overseas, that’s a lie. Somebody just doesn’t want to do their job and promote the film overseas. Do you not have people streaming my Christmas specials in Australia? Come on, y’all! I don’t understand the thinking. Send me over there, and if it fails, then we don’t do it again, but why not try? If I knew this movie was gonna make money domestically, I would try to get more money overseas. It’s business!”
Traditionally, Hollywood has blamed lack of interest in black films overseas as the reason why they don’t promote them there. But just last year, Get Out raked in big money overseas—as did Hidden Figures the year before—and historically, films like Coming to America, Beverly Hills Cop 2, Independence Day, and Bad Boys 2 have, too. If anything, it’s a systemic problem of assuming black films undersell in America and in turn, fail overseas. Henson starred in Hidden Figures and her television drama Empire screens internationally, so why not develop her into a burgeoning international box-office star?
As Octavia Spencer, Henson’s Hidden Figures co-star, said, “[Will Smith] was told the same thing—that he wasn’t going to be taken to promote his film. Had he not paid for himself to fly all over the world that very first time, he would not be an international box-office star. So they have to start investing and taking black actresses and actors across the world just like they do with unknown white actors. They need to do the same thing for black actors. If you don’t know ’em, why would you go support the film?”
Speaking of Smith, even his critically panned film Bright managed to be a success for Netflix (a sequel has already been greenlit) and trust me, Proud Mary would have to do some heavy lifting to be worse than that trash.
Henson has been a star for decades and it’s a shame that there isn’t a bigger push for Proud Mary. This week, I accidentally stumbled upon a Facebook Live interview with the actress that lasted less than 10 minutes and had her scrolling through an iPad to find fans’ questions to answer in real time. It looked like a thrown-together operation from a flailing media company that has decided to “pivot to video.”
I’ve been rooting for Henson for years. Fans are excited to see the movie and want to support it and help studios realize that black films—and films starring women—have a hungry audience that craves more than a few tweets and TV commercials. As Henson told THR, “If a man can do it, why can’t we? I feel like women get better as we age. Give us the same chances as you give men.”