Cover design by Leo Pilares
Since late 2017, one by one, brave women, and men (Hey, Terry Crews!), have been coming out of the shadows to tell horrific tales of sexual harassment and, in some cases, assault. Many of those women were some of the Hollywood’s red-carpet heroes, the ones we see on the cover of magazines. The others came from behind the scenes — from floor managers to executive producers, no role was exempt. So, what is it really like to be a woman in Hollywood?
Felicia D. Henderson has been the hand holding the pen that wrote some of television’s most heart-pounding dramas and laugh til’ you cry comedies. With hit shows in the 1990s like “Moesha,” “Sister, Sister” and “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” under her belt, Henderson knows a thing or two about the challenges of having to survive in the land of glitz and glamour.
“I’m asked the question from black women of what is the challenge,” Henderson said. “I don’t focus on the challenge, to be honest. Did I grow up being told that I’m black so I had to be twice as good to be considered? Yes. And I still believe that. So, I don’t focus on the challenge, I focus on being excellent.”
It’s a question she is asked often as the UCLA alum teaches a class on screenwriting at the University of Texas at Austin. Henderson said she strays away from telling young people of the challenges she faces as a black woman because it’s not important. She believes that excellence and hard work puts you in these positions, such as hers, of greatness. “I don’t want them to focus on the challenges,” Henderson said. “I want them to focus on working in a way that they can’t be denied.”
Her passion for striving for greatness can vividly be seen through her work. Currently as the executive producer, head writer and creator of BET’s, “The Quad,” the main character, Dr. Eva Fletcher, played by actress Anika Noni Rose, struggles as the newly elected President of Georgia A&M University, a fictional HBCU (Historically Black College or University.) Though met with many speed bumps, Rose’s character does not let them stop her from being on top, very similar to some of the things Henderson has experienced in her career. “When expressing my passion, I have to be reminded that I’m expressing that in the body of a black woman,” the award-winning writer said. “Depending on how I express myself, all types of decisions will be made and considerations will be decided. I have to remember that I’m doing the same work that a white man is doing. It’s just that my decision may be seen as offensive.”
Did I grow up being told that I’m black so I had to be twice as good to be considered? Yes. And I still believe that. So, I don’t focus on the challenge, I focus on being excellent.”
Rose’s character in “The Quad” was inspired by Hillary R. Clinton, whom Henderson became very fond of during her first run for President. She paid very close attention to the way Clinton was treated and the mannerisms she had to use. She wanted to create a female character who would be the first leader in a male-dominated industry.
The idea comes at a very pivotal time in culture where the #MeToo movement can be found on billboards, articles and televisions around the world. Started by social activist Tarana Burke, the phrase, and popular hashtag, has been used on social media to help demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual harassment and assault.
“I always think about those who are still invisible,” Henderson said in regard to #MeToo. “I hope that this is not a moment but a permanent movement towards workplace behavior. Although she believes the hashtag has done some good for those who have been victimized by such behavior, the 56-year-old feels fearful that this movement may cause some harm. “People are so quickly being judged and fired from their jobs,” Henderson said. “And as a black person, I feel something towards seeing people being tried and convicted without due process because my people have a history of being treated that way.”
Touching on the topic of sexual assault on college campuses on season one of “The Quad,” Henderson said it shed light on the sensitive topic for many viewers who may have been trying to erase it. When the episodes aired, many stories from mainstream campuses as well as HBCU’s like Howard University and Spelman College, made the news. Viewers reached out to the network, actors and show creators to thank them for not being afraid to talk about it, when on many campuses, stories are kept hidden.
“I am very proud that we touched on it in the way we did,” Henderson said. “I really wanted an exploration of the victim and of the perpetrator and I thought that was important.”
Besides writing for “The Quad,” Henderson also writes for Marvel’s “The Punisher,” a passion project of hers since she is an avid comic book fan and has written for “Justice League of America” and Teen Titans.” With television becoming somewhat nostalgic these days, the NAACP Image Award winner is open to some of the reboots of old shows, like “Roseanne,” a show she wrote for in the early stages of her career. “It’s not uncommon for Hollywood to go back to something that was once successful instead of taking a risk on an idea that’s new,” Henderson said. “We need something positive to watch. People want to laugh and feel good.”
The doctoral candidate in Cinema and Media Studies has no plans on stopping anytime soon. Like “Roseanne,” Henderson has been asked to jump on board to potentially reboot Showtime’s hit drama “Soul Food: the Series,” a show she said changed her career for the better. “It was a good time and I remember telling the cast, these are the good times. We are in it right now.”
Catch BET’s “The Quad” Tuesdays at 10 p.m. (EST) and binge watch Marvel’s “The Punisher” only on Netflix.