Although many took her Oscar night comments to mean just the opposite, Taraji P. Henson says she supports Ryan Seacrest. Many viewers thought she was throwing some subtle shade Seacrest's way when she told him on Sunday's red carpet that "The universe has a way of taking care of taking care of good people." Especially when she placed her finger on his chin and added, "You know what I mean?" But the Hidden Figures actor claims the moment was "misconstrued," and that she "absolutely" supports the E! host. "I did it to keep his chin up," Henson told PEOPLE on Mar. 4, in a story published while the 90th Academy Awards were still airing. "It’s an awkward position to be in. He’s been cleared but anyone can say anything."
The situation she's referring to here involves the recent allegations of sexual harassment and abuse by Seacrest from his former stylist, Suzie Hardy. After working with the producer from 2007 to 2013, Hardy claimed to Variety that she endured unwanted advances from her boss; she alleges that on various occasions, he groped her genitals, rubbed his erection along her leg, and slapped her on the buttock hard enough to leave a mark. (Seacrest has repeatedly disputed the claims, including in a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter. And after what E! calls a "comprehensive and thorough" independent investigation, Hardy's claims were found to be unsubstantiated, a finding that she disputes.)
Many viewers were unsatisfied by the network's conclusion, however, and took issue with Seacrest's presence on the Oscars red carpet. Some felt that at a ceremony where the Time's Up and #MeToo movements rightfully took center stage, the optics of having an accused harasser stationed on the red carpet weren't ideal (regardless of whether or not the name in question had been cleared). And possibly for that reason, many were eager to see a connection between Henson's pointed words and their own feelings about the American Idol host.
There was just enough ambiguity in both the quote and the 47-year-old actor's delivery that it left room for a whole range of interpretation. Henson held Seacrest's gaze so intensely that there seemed to be a hidden meaning underneath the look. It's just that in this case, the actor said that the meaning was support and not a warning, as many fans assumed. And because people so rarely touch each others' faces on the red carpet, the moment was bound to be jarring no matter how viewers interpreted the situation. "Taraji just put a curse on Ryan Seacrest," said one Twitter user after viewing the footage.
And indeed, when Henson moved on to her next interview, the perceived shade seemed to continue. When the talented actor was asked by ABC’s Wendi McLendon-Covey how she was doing, Henson responded, "I'm great now that I'm in your company," causing eyebrows all across the country to raise.
But at the end of the day, the "don't worry, I have your back, buddy" chin touch looks the same as the "I see you and your time is up, buddy" chin touch. So as outside viewers, we have to take Henson's word for the intention behind her words to Seacrest. Still, she's placing her support not with the female accuser but with the male accused, a move that has disappointed many. And Twitter users haven't been shy about sharing their disappointment in the Empire star for her decision.
The moment is clearly still a controversial topic one on the social media platform, but Seacrest has already made it clear that he's holding no hard feelings. He posted an image to his personal Twitter of the two smiling together on the red carpet on Sunday evening, stating that he had "nothing but love" for the Oscar presenter.
And since the tweet was posted at 11:15 p.m. ET, more than 10 minutes before Henson's response went live on PEOPLE, it seems likely that the air is clear... between these two, at least.