Love Terrence Howard, but Don't Like Terrence Howard

How do we reconcile our distaste for a star’s personal behavior with our appreciation of their talent?

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Terrence Howard

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The Best Man Holiday may be surpring industry insiders with another strong performance at the box office this weekend, but it isn't a surprise to long-time fans of the original Best Man and its dynamic cast. Among that cast, though, is a man who nearly kept me from seeing the movie, a man of whom I’m actually a fan, even though the years (and his actions) have not been kind to his off-screen persona.

Of course I’m talking about my dear Señor Baby Wipes, actor Terrence Howard.

My problem with Terrence Howard is pretty simple—I love Terrence Howard the entertainer, but have massive side-eye for Terrence Howard the man. The first film I ever saw him in was the 1996 teen basketball flick Sunset Park, and I was immediately smitten by his gentle demeanor and easygoing style. I was a goofy, boyfriend-less teen at the time, and I rapidly fell in love with his character, Spaceman. I still remember gleaming up at him beatifically from the cheap seats of Florissant, Mo.’s dollar show. By the time I saw him three years later in 1999’s The Best Man I was sure he was going to be a big star. He was so charismatic, and his character, Quentin, was easily the biggest scene-stealer in a flick that contained great actors (Nina Long, Harold Perrineau) and heartthrobs (Taye Diggs and Morris Chestnut) alike. 

But that was the 1990s. There were a lot of mainstream films starring African-American actors and actresses in the '90s. And like all '90s black actors who looked like they were destined for huge careers, The Best Man cast found themselves stymied in the 21st-century world of video piracy and tentpole CGI blockbusters.

In some respects, though, Howard should have made it. In 2005 he finally got the breakout role he’d sought starring in Craig Brewer’s Hustle & Flow. And, as he’ll gladly let you know, he was the highest paid actor in the first Iron Man film back in 2008.

Yet, while Howard was snatching up roles he was also snatching up stalking and domestic violence allegations. He kept saying things publicly that sounded horribly sexist, like if a woman only uses toilet paper she’s “unclean.”  There was also that time Howard seemed way too OK with the fact that Chris Brown had brutally beaten up his then-girlfriend Rihanna. Recently Howard went on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live and tried to spin some really creative celebrity fan-fiction about that one time he turned down both Beyoncé and Padma Lakshmi. Padma, specifically, got flagged for being “too dominant.”

Over time because of the allegations and his penchant for simply saying offensive things about women, my teenage bliss soured. I became less and less invested in his career. I’d gone from someone who had liked Terrence Howard enough to actually pay money for his 2008 album Shine Through It (one of the five who did) to someone who could barely get through The Brave One without making personal-hygiene jokes.

But seeing Howard again as one of the characters who initially made me love him reminded me of how often as a woman (and a black woman at that), we find ourselves trapped for liking things we are not supposed to like.

Just the thought of R. Kelly makes me feel ill, yet I still consider his 1998 double-album R. to be one of the best R&B records ever produced. I love Guns & Roses, but how horrible is Axl Rose? I have a complicated relationship with the film Django Unchained and its director, Quentin Tarantino, who I’m convinced is only obsessed with the n-word because his white male privilege told him he could be whatever he wanted when he grew up, and he wanted to be Samuel Jackson.

I can’t seem to give up on actor Isaiah Washington, even after the whole f-word debacle with Grey’s Anatomy. Tax evader Wesley Snipes continues to be one of my favorites even though he’s on a Terrence Howard-scale of legal and personal infractions at this point.

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