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‘What Men Want’ is an excellent sports movie with a woman, Taraji P. Henson, at its center

Karl-Anthony Towns, Shaq, Grant Hill and Lisa Leslie have cameos in new comedy

The most exciting thing in Taraji P. Henson’s forthcoming What Men Want, a bold comedy about a female sports agent who suddenly gets to hear the inner thoughts of men everywhere, isn’t that the NBA gave Paramount Pictures the go-ahead to use images of one of its teams, the Atlanta Hawks, or even an appearance by NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

The most exciting thing is Henson herself. After years of fighting for roles that allowed Henson, an Oscar nominee, to display the entirety of her range, she has it. And then some.

What Men Want is the kind of movie that black actors, specifically black female actors, don’t get the opportunity to make.

In this film inspired by Mel Gibson’s 2000 What Women Want, Henson plays the Gibson character and has a chance to prove she is a major box-office draw. The comedy is set in Atlanta, and Henson’s character is determined to land a big NBA lottery pick as a client to prove to her male colleagues that she should be made a partner. Henson has the recipe for what should be a successful film: The writing is sharp, the comedic timing is perfection, and Henson is surrounded by a phenomenal supporting cast that includes Aldis Hodge, who also shines in Clemency, a film that already has critics talking about next season’s big awards. And add to all this Karl-Anthony Towns, Shaquille O’Neal, Grant Hill and Lisa Leslie, who make seriously hilarious cameos.

What Men Want is the kind of movie that black actors, specifically black female actors, don’t get the opportunity to make. And it could be a game-changer. That certainly was the sentiment at the film’s premiere and after-party on Monday in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles.

The screening happened in the same theater where, a decade earlier, Henson’s talent was introduced to Hollywood tastemakers via The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in which she acted alongside Brad Pitt and earned herself an Academy Award nomination. Many of black Hollywood’s most important content creators were in Westwood, including producer Will Packer, naturally, and director John Singleton, who cast Henson in her breakout role as Yvette in 2001’s Baby Boy. And they’d just toasted Henson earlier that day as she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

After the screening, a small crowd headed over to a nearby W Hotel, where mini burgers, tuna tartare and macaroni and cheese were munched on at swanky STK just off the lobby. A DJ spun ’80s and ’90s hits as guests networked, danced and stood in a receiving line of sorts to sing Henson’s praises. Henson’s fiancé, Super Bowl champion Kelvin Hayden, beamed as folks congratulated a mildly overwhelmed Henson.

Might this film — which celebrates black fatherhood, toasts female empowerment and gives a black woman a megaphone to address sexism and hints of racism — be the game-changer that Hollywood needs? We’ll soon find out.

Liner Notes

What Men Want opens Feb. 8.

Kelley L. Carter is a senior entertainment writer at The Undefeated. She can act out every episode of the U.S version of "The Office," she can and will sing the Michigan State University fight song on command and she is very much immune to Hollywood hotness.