Friday, July 19, 2024

Audience with the Queen

November 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Cover Story, Feature

Whether boosting her star power or empowering the next generation of entertainers, Queen Latifah is meeting challenges and breaking down barriers.


Queen Latifa

Groundbreaking rapper. Successful businesswoman. Television star. Oscar-nominated actress. Revered mentor. Highly-rated daytime talk show host.

Few artists can lay claim to the brand of multifaceted fame and influence Queen Latifah has built over more than 20 years in the entertainment industry. For the woman born Dana Owens, her exalted status can be traced to a realization that she arrived at long before becoming a household name: Business comes first. With her Flavor Unit company solidly established in the Hollywood firmament, Latifah’s star power and influence have never been greater. She recently sat down with Las Vegas Black Image Magazine publishers Charles Tureaud and Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud for an exclusive and candid interview about her place in the zeitgeist, diversity in Hollywood and how she aims to expand opportunities for the next generation of stars.

Kimberly: Latifah, you have a great acting career. Would you ever consider playing a lead role as the legendary entertainer Pearl Bailey?
I have been hearing that for years. I grew up watching Pearl Bailey, and one time I opened a book and thought the photo in the book was me. I said, “I don’t remember taking that photo.” Then as I looked closer I realized it was Pearl Bailey. But, we looked so much alike in that photo when she was young I thought it was me. Pearl Bailey was a big influence on me as a child. She was so spunky, and she related to everyone and crossed barriers. That was very cool for me to see as a child. So, I would love to bring her life to the screen. But, next up for me is doing the Bessie Smith story. I will be playing Bessie, and when I get her done I will jump into the role of Pearl Bailey.
Kimberly: How are you enjoying doing your daytime talk show?
Doing the show is amazing to me. To have a platform every day that allows us to reach out and find people who you would never know about, and who are doing amazing things to make our entire world better. We have amazing celebrities such as Denzel Washington and Jada Pinkett Smith and many others, but we share the television stage and light with amazing everyday people in the world who are the boots on the ground for positive change.

Queen Latifa

Charles: What do you feel about the lack of diversity and the lack of African American men in late night television?

I say come to my company, Flavor Unit, and let’s try to make some things happen. Come sit down with us and let’s see what we can make happen. I absolutely think we can get more diverse in television — period. Particularly with African-American men. Personally, I would like to see more brothers on television. But, it is what it is to some degree, and we have to take it one step at a time to create the right vehicle to shine. That is what we have to continue to do. And we have to work with each other and look for different avenues. There are so many ways to tackle media these days. I think there are so many different ways to create shows instead of just thinking about late night television or daytime television. What about creating something online that is so huge that no one can deny it? We have those opportunities now. We don’t have to just go one way with a project. I think it is just important to keep working with one another, and to create those vehicles for talent that is out there and hasn’t been shown as much.
Charles: With regard to stereotypes, America tends to put African-Americans in a box as it relates to things like fashion and the way they think we act. Do you think America is ready for the universal image of African Americans and our true broader lifestyles?
I think America is absolutely ready for images of us in different ways. I think it’s really about the media. It has always been about the media, and what is actually released to the public. My first wake up call with this was when I was a teenager. I was rapping as Queen Latifah, and touring around the world. While in Europe, a lot of images I saw relating to black people were not positive. I knew that the images were not good representations of black people and I said, “That is not us. This is not how we live on a normal basis and this is not who we are.” Half the interviews I did while there I had to explain to the European media what rap music was. But not defending it. Instead, being that extra spoke on the wheel for African-Americans — so the world could understand how we really are, and know what they are seeing is not the true picture of what life is really like for us.
Unfortunately, we are all seeing that too. So, the more positive images we are able to get out to the public of ourselves doing dynamic things, the world will be better for it. When I was eight years old I had a skateboard and I played soccer. The stunt double who did all my stunts in the movie “Last Holiday” was a black man who was also a world champion snowboarder. I think as the generations continue, barriers will come down. Young people will play a big part in breaking those barriers down, because when you see the rap artist Drake, and his half-white, half-black family, you see both of them in his videos — reflecting both sides of his culture. The truth is, as other races we do a lot of things together and those images have to be shown more. I have had a lot of infl uences in my family of strong positive black men who have made me who I am. I know that black men need to be shown in a more positive light — and that is what my partner, Shakim, and I are trying to do. My talk show is a great platform to show positive images of people and things that are happening that are really good in this world and people making a difference. I was recently talking to Quincy Jones and he said, “Man, I was in Saint-Tropez 50 years ago before Puff Daddy ever thought about it.” These broader images of us is something we have to continue to get out there.
Charles: Does having added exposure aid in reaching success?
I would not have thought I could do a sitcom if I hadn’t seen Will Smith do one. It’s about having a little bit exposure that can spark confidence. I felt that I could act because Will was doing it and he came from where I came from. We toured together for months, and I watched him make that transition from being a rapper to an actor. I knew it was possible. Sometimes it is the exposure to the idea that makes things possible. People take it and run with it. There are enough negative images out there. I don’t feel that I need to add in to it. If anything, I need to fight against it. No one thinks they are racist, but everyone can be guilty of it at some point in their lives. Just because we are all getting brainwashed by the same machine. It’s not like one has to have a goal to change a million people. Maybe it can start by changing people in your own family. Or your own mindset, for that matter. Stepping out of the box and doing things that are your path’s calling. Nothing changes if everybody stays in the same place and does the same old things. To me, that is boring. I have always tried to step into something that feel uncomfortable, scary, and at the same time, thrilling. I like to live life in that place. We just have to keep making our presence felt.
Charles: Well, you might see my presence at Flavor Unit to be considered as a talk show host.
(Laughing) And you will see the presence of security. Seriously, let’s go! Let’s do it!

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