Born Dana Elaine Owens, but better known as Queen Latifah, the First Lady of Hip-Hop was also the first rapper to land an Oscar nomination (for Chicago). She's already made another ten movies since, including Bringing Down the House, Barbershop 2, Beauty Shop, Taxi, and The Cookout.
She recently added another to the string of firsts found on
her resume' when she became the first hip-hop artist to get a star on the
Hollywood Walk of Fame. Here, she reflects on her latest movie, a remake of Last
Holiday, a bittersweet comedy from 1950 about a salesman (Sir Alec Guinness) who
decides to spend every penny he's saved when he learns he's suffering from a
The Last Holiday Interview with Kam Williams
Kam Williams (KW): The character you play in this movie's name is Georgia Bird. When the film was originally made, the character's name was George Bird and played by Sir Alec Guinness. Do you feel funny about taking a role that was really written for a man?
Queen Latifah (QL): I reserve the right to be creative and to re-conceptualize a lot of these movies that need to be switched for someone like me. They need to be opened up and changed to add a little flava' to them, or just a new twist on them that wasn't there before. A lot of the studios are open to it. Talent drives a lot of the scripts that you see. So, if a studio wants to work with me, and the writers figure out a way to make it happen, and they're into the idea, then it's really not that difficult. But I never limit myself to supposedly typical female roles, let alone African-American female ones.
Neither does my agent or my partner slash manager. So, when they're out there looking for stuff, they're looking for good pieces of work. Good ideas, not just a role for a black female.
KW: What was it like having a rapper, LL Cool J, play your love interest?
QL: [Whispers] Well, there's no love interest like LL Cool J. [Chuckles] No, it was interesting, 'cause we used to work together. His wife is cool as hell, always has been. So, I have to act, when I'm allowing myself to think that way about him. But working with him was really fun because, although we do come from music backgrounds, and have made this transition into film, we still have our roots in rap. We could sit around and rhyme. He'd start rhyming one of Eric B. and Rakim's records, and we'd rhyme the whole song, or we'd start talking about this event in hip-hop history. Or about that whole era of hip-hop when we were around. He'd start rhyming one of my records, or I'd start rhyming one of his. There was just more of a relatability because we come from the world of hip-hop music, and because of the respect we have for each other's having made that crossover, as being one of the few rappers to have their own sitcom, go into films and then wind up working together. It was the same kind of feeling with Ice Cube, and the same kind of feeling with Will [Smith], who's been like a brother all these years.
Put On Your Crown
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Put on Your Crown: Life-Changing Moments on the Path to Queendom
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing;
1 edition (May 6, 2010)
Modeled after Maria Shriver's Just Who Will You Be, Queen Latifah's goal with Put On Your Crown is to help young women build a strong sense of self-esteem. A US Dept. of Justice survey found that females ages 16-24 are more vulnerable to partner violence than any other group, almost triple the national average. Cases like Chris Brown's assault on pop star Rihanna showed an ugly side of adolescent life. However, Queen Latifah has always been a shining example of a woman happy with herself and unwilling to compromise to fit into the "hollywood ideal" of what a confident beautiful woman should look like. The result: She's one of the biggest A-list celebrities in Hollywood.
Queen of the Scene (Book and CD)
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by Queen Latifah, Frank Morrison
Queen Latifah, Karen Hunter
At once autobiographical and inspirational, Ladies First is the story of a kid from the 'hood, making tough decisions and terrible mistakes -- about sex and drugs and about who was real, and who wasn't -- before she was old enough to drive. It is about the reign of depression that descended after her brother's tragic death and finding a sustaining love in God when it seemed the world was trying to break her. Ladies First is about being confident and sensual in a big, strong body and about blocking out the junk to let in the good. It is about how anyone -- whether from the poorest means or the richest -- can hold her head high in a world full of attitude.
KW: Why did you settle on LL as your co-star?
QL: I thought it would particularly good for him, because you don't usually see him play this kind of character. I thought it would show more of his range, and make him more empathetic to people. It's a beautiful character that he plays in this film. He's still that strong guy, but without the cockiness, the brashness or the physicality that you see with many of his roles. This isn't based on his body. He's really just an emotional, sensitive guy who has a crush on a girl. It's a classic sort of love story with an innocence about it that's just beautiful.
KW: Tell me a little about your character.
QL: She's shy, meek, humble, always bending over backwards for everyone else. And she's afraid of a lot of things. She has all this money in the bank, but won't spend it for fear of needing it. Won't approach this guy she's in love with, for fear of being rejected. So, she's a woman who lives in fear. But it comes to a point where she must choose her desires and goals over the fears, because she only has three weeks to live.
KW: Have you ever had to overcome fears in real-life?
QL: To be honest with you, all my life I've been in a battle to overcome my fears. I've had to take that chance with everything I've done, from riding my bike down that driveway, to skateboarding, to soccer, to every sport I every tried out for. I tried out for the kick ball team in the projects when I was little. I didn't make the team, but I tried. So, I learned rejection at an early age, too. But it doesn't kill you. Like the talent show, for the first ten seconds, I was as nervous as I don't know what. And then I found that one face in the crowd that was with me, and I'd focus on them, and it all would start just coming out, and I'd do well. So, everything I tried to do in my life has been scary, to a degree. But I'd just do it anyway.
KW: You've accomplished so much already. Are there any mountains left for you to climb?
QL: There's still plenty to do. I think I'll never run out of things to accomplish, as long as I'm alive, 'cause there's so much to learn, and so much to do. I always feel like I have so much further to go, personally, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. So, I guess I'll be hanging around till God says, "you're good, come on back."
KW: As someone who made it out of the projects of Newark, what words of advice do you have for kids coming up in the inner city today?
QL: I would tell some of them that I went through my follower period, too, because you want to be accepted and feel like a part of something. A lot of these gangs are facing that with gangs or with clubs. It could be a positive or a negative sort of thing. At the end of the day, though, you have to be your own leader and make your own choices. All those decisions come with consequences. If you hang out with kids who want to get high smoking weed and sniffing coke, then you're going to do nothing with your life but smoke weed and sniff coke. If you want to be a doctor, then you need to hang out with people who want to be doctors. Often, it's the company that you keep.
If you're going to run with a crew, decide what crew you're going to run with. A crew that's beating up people to get into a gang that ain't making any money does not make sense. Don't be a dummy. You don't want to be a follower; you want to be a leader. Anything you could possibly dream of is now possible. So, what're you gonna do? I could rattle on and on, but kids are going to face those challenges, and at some point any true leader has to have the guts to stand alone and make a stand.
KW: Do you have any feelings about your governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's ordering the execution of Tookie Williams?
Queen Latifah (Blue Banner Biographies)
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by: Kathleen Tracy
Queen Latifah (A&E Biography)
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by: Amy Ruth
QL: First of all, my governor's in New Jersey, Corzine. I'm a New Jersey resident. I do split my time and damn near live in California, too, but Jersey will always be my home. I was totally against it, and if I ever wind up becoming a resident while he's governor, I'll have to vote him just because of that. I feel like it just shows a lack of compassion. And it's not about what Tookie Williams did or didn't do. I'm just against the death penalty. We don't honor ourselves as human beings to literally murder another human. I feel like there are too many people who have already died that were innocent. The whole system is flawed. Look at how many people are being freed based on DNA. God knows what other types of scientific evidence will come up in the future that will free other people.
KW: What do you think of Lil' Kim's being in prison/
QL: Well, I been wanting to see the girl. I done wrote a thousand letters for them to put us on this damn list. It's a Catch-22 with Kim. I feel really bad for her, because she really didn't do anything. She just didn't tell. And in the circles that we move in, there's something to be said for that. But I think that people could have acted on her behalf in a wiser way so that she wouldn't have ended up in this situation.
KW: Does being a star and always in the public eye have a negative impact on your relationships?
QL: There's negative effects when you're trying to sit down and have a damn argument and people come up to you and say, 'Aren't you Queen Latifah?' You want to say, 'Yeah, and get the hell out of my face. Don't you see me arguing? Go ahead on!' But you can't, because then somebody gets their feeling hurt, and you feel worse. It's a pain in the butt, though, when you're just trying to have a conversation. It's a compliment to you, but at the same time, it's very hard sometimes for the people around you. And everybody who loves you and cares about you has got to ride this thing with you, good times and bad. It has its ups and downs, like any other profession. The only problem is that you have your mistakes in front of the world, and other people kind of get to have theirs behind closed doors.
Guess I gots to go. Always good talking to you.
KW: Same here. Thanks for the time.
Strong: Simple Life Lessons for Teens
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by: Terrie Williams, Queen Latifah (Introduction)
Format: Paperback, 240pp
Pub. Date: March 2002
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
At the core of STAY STRONG is the idea that with the right attitude and
strategies, kids can truly accomplish anything. And Terrie Williams is the ideal
person to encourage and inspire. Her solid advice about ambition, goals and
making real, personal connections speaks to readers without a hint of preaching.
Urging them to stick to just a few simple but powerful rules--tools that have
successfully served Terrie's famous clients - Janet Jackson, Wesley Snipes, and
Boyz II Men, for example. Terrie also lends insight into real teens' lives, and
captivates with true rags-to-riches success stories. People will respect you if
you respect them, she urges - as long as you can have that courage not to
conform. As Terrie says at the closing of every conversation, above all else,
Her Footsteps: 101 Remarkable Black Women from the Queen of Sheba to Queen
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by: Annette Madden
Format: Paperback, 259pp
Pub. Date: February 2001
Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
The life stories of these "daughters of Africa" are sometimes playful and sometimes painful - but always awe-inspiring in their truth and candor. Sweeping across history and over continents, they portray the energy, creativity, and resilience of black women such as Ana Quirot, a Cuban runner who overcame life-threatening burns to triumph in the Olympic games; Yelena Khanga, a black Russian woman who hosts the most popular television show in Russia and performs with a comedy troupe in New York; and Lulu Shite, the diamond-studded madam of Mahogany Hall in New Orleans.Organized by field of endeavor, chapters include African Queens; Slaves Who Refused to Bow; Freedom Fighters, Rabble Rousers, and Audacious Advocates; Powerful Politicos and Bold Businesswomen; and Sassy Songbirds, Dazzling Dancers, and Talented Thespians.
Queen Latifah Interview (May 2010)