Terrence Howard confused the hell out of many in a recent Rolling Stone profile. In it, Howard was way too candid about his, uh, very interesting and challenging life. Such is his right. However, when it came to discussion of his past accusations of violence, I wish he had simply offered a thoughtful apology or suddenly misplaced his tongue. Unfortunately, Howard did discuss the various allegations leveled against him over the years, and claims the reputation it’s spawned help influence him to play Lucious Lyon on Empire.
“Since they see me as a bad guy,” he explains, “I’m gonna play a bad guy.”
These allegations would include: being escorted off a plane for unruly behavior; punching out strangers in a restaurant; physically abusing at least two women, including two ex-wives.
But, apparently we should boohoo for Lucious.
In a separate Hollywood Reporter profile, it is revealed that Howard has reduced his press availability—one Rolling Stone write-up too late, but I suppose better late than ever. Howard’s co-stars were reportedly advised not to comment on Howard’s troubles, including his issues over a settlement with his ex-wife. But director/Empire creator Lee Daniels opted otherwise.
“That poor boy,” Daniels said of the actor.
Daniels went on to say, “[Terrence] ain’t done nothing different than Marlon Brando or Sean Penn, and all of a sudden he’s some fu*kin’ demon. That’s a sign of the time, of race, of where we are right now in America.”
Such a claim immediately makes me think of remarks Chris Brown made in 2008, after he was said to have tossed a chair at a window following his interview with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America. Brown did not like being asked about his physically assaulting Rihanna, so he tweeted and subsequently deleted the following message: “I’m so over people bringing this past s**t up!!! Yet we praise Charlie Sheen and other celebs for [their] bulls**t.”
At the time, I acknowledged Chris Brown had a point, but wrote: “Unfortunately, life isn’t fair, and one would think that a millionaire, of all people, would realize that. We can’t often control what life hands us, but our real power lies in our reaction to whatever we’re dealt. It’s time that Brown accepts what he’s done and the reality that he’ll never fully be able to escape it.”
In other words, don’t hide behind racism to deflect from your misogyny.
The same goes for Howard, who proceeded to make many excuses for his actions. Yes, he said he was wrong for striking one of his wives, but he downplayed the manner in which he did, and did the same for all his other accused violent acts. And in hindsight, while I will not deny that White entertainers have many privileges over their Black counterparts—including their transgressions being swept under the rug far more than their darker peers—Daniels glides over the reality that we live in a different period now.
I am not convinced that in 2015, Marlon Brando or Sean Penn could easily escape scrutiny for their alleged history of abusing women without any sort of taint to their reputations.
Whatever the case, race should not be interjected in this because ultimately, all of these men have gone on to great successes despite their mistreatment of women. Chris Brown still has a career in which he can top the charts with songs that describe women as disloyal bitches. Marlon Brando continues to be celebrated as a legend. Sean Penn manages to still be revered and respected in Hollywood.
Terrence Howard, despite his current legal battle with his ex-wife, can still be the star of the biggest show on television in the last two decades. A star that can not only dance around his history of abuse without major challenges in a legendary publication, but also take jabs at certain kinds of men.
Indeed, in this same interview, Howard recalls the lessons his father taught him and adds, “But being a man comes with a curse because it’s not a society made for men to flourish anymore. Everything is androgynous, you know? The more successful men now are the effeminate.”
This is a very linear view of what makes a man. It’s dripping in patriarchy and topped with sprinkles of homophobia. It’s also untrue. Terrence Howard’s temper, accused violence against women, and statements alluding to the peril of “real men” are problems of his own making. They do have consequences, only arguably not as much as they should.
As a man, Terrence Howard will get away with this ignorance. It’s just a sign of the times and where we are right now: for Black and White men alike.