Marcell Johnson is the 21-year-old son of Empire and Hidden Figures actress Taraji P. Henson.


Marcell was born in 1994 to Henson and her then-boyfriend William Lamar Johnson. The couple’s relationship was full of strife, including physical abuse between them, as Henson revealed in her October 2016 memoir. The first time he shed her blood, she left him for good. She still allowed her son to have a relationship with his father, even if she didn’t want one.

William was killed in on Jan. 25, 2003 after approaching another couple about slashing his friend’s tires. The couple, Russell and Charlotte Nickelson, bashed a lamp over his head and repeatedly stabbed him and killing him. The Nickelsons went to prison for voluntary manslaughter, but only served 50 and 36 months in prison, respectively.

Marcell was nine years old at the time his father was murdered. “He’s had to deal with life in a way that a lot of young kids haven’t yet,” said Henson of her son. “Do I mourn for him? Absolutely. I wish my son had his dad. But sometimes things line up and they have to happen and we don’t know why.”

At 18, Marcell was a model for MySquareBear clothing.

Marcell studied at Howard University, having transferred there from the University of Southern California after a racial profiling incident. “He was in Glendale, California and did exactly everything the cops told him to do, including letting them illegally search his car,” said Henson. “It was bogus because they didn’t give him the ticket for what he was pulled over for.” Henson later apologized after it was confirmed that her son had marijuana in the car, and the cop simply let him off with a warning to help him.

“Then he’s at University of Southern California, the school that I was going to transfer him to, when police stopped him for having his hands in his pockets,” Henson continued. “So guess where he’s going? Howard University. I’m not paying $50K so I can’t sleep at night wondering is this the night my son is getting racially profiled on campus.”

Henson herself got her degree from Howard.

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