Queen Latifah Talks "Put On Your Crown," "Just Wright," and Empowering Women

Sona Charaipotra

Queen Latifah and Common in Just Wright
Photo by Fox Searchlight
Two-time Oscar nominee and Cover Girl diva Queen Latifah took a minute from her super-hectic schedule to chat with CafeMom about making movies and music, life in the Dirty Jerz, and writing books that empower young women.

So you seem to be having a great May, what with the movie, the book, and all.

I'm doing good -- it's warm outside, it's almost barbecue weather. What more can you ask for?

As producer and star, how much do you shape a role like Leslie Wright, your character in Just Wright, for Queen Latifah?

Well it was kind of an ideal fit because my partner [in her production company, Flava Unit] Shakim and I conceived it from the beginning. So it might look like a little bit of me in there because I'm a basketball lover and I'm very nurturing. I'm very determined and successful in my own right, as Leslie is. I have a great relationship with my father and my mom as Leslie does, and I wanted to show that, but she isn't me. 

And just like Leslie, you're still waiting on Mr. Right?

Oh no, I'm way different. I've had four or five Mr. Rights, but always turned into the runaway bride. But really, she's just a regular, hardworking girl trying to find love in the world. What I saw was that people really, really rooted for her. They really wanted her to get the guy.

For a two-tme Oscar winner, you're still quite the down-home Jersey Girl.

We're from Jersey, so we'd like to show Jersey in a different light than you may see in other shows that people might get annoyed about -- because we're from Jersey, we know that we have a lot more to offer and a lot more going on than what's sometimes depicted of us. So we just wanted to make sure we could show it in that light. We know what the Jersey vibe is like, what it's about. The most important thing for creating that New Jersey vibe was making sure that the block that Leslie Wright lived on, that the home she lived in, looked like East Orange, you know what I mean? And although we shot in Brooklyn and her home base is technically in Brooklyn, it did have that Jersey feel.

Hence the New Jersey Nets get all the love in this movie, right?

I used to live over a barbershop when I moved to East Orange. It was called Modern Era Barbers. And Darryl Dawkins, who used to play for the Nets -- also the first person to shatter a backboard -- used to come and get his hair cut there. So it was very exciting to see an NBA player come get his hair cut. When that white Mercedes pulled up right in front of my house, I knew he was downstairs. And he signed a poster for me. I had it on my wall growing up. So I've always been kind of a Nets fan.

And as a producer, you got to pick Leslie's Mr. Right in the film. Why Common?

I'm glad that we knew each other already. Paula Patton -- who plays my god-sister Morgan -- and I are great friends and so is Common. Working together was like working with an old friend. We didn't have to create the chemistry, I hate having to do that. Most of the time, I have a say as to who's in the film, but not always. When you get to work with someone you know, and Common and I are both Pisces, we just clicked. We vibe! Common is a great person -- he's my friend, but if you didn't know him, he'd still treat you with the same kindness and respect that he'd give me, knowing me. Although don't lend him any of your books because you'll never get them back.

He sure is fun to look at. But will people buy Common as a basketball star? 

Look, Allen Iverson is not 6'5", but he's one of the strongest players that ever played in the league. It's not about having some tall player to compliment us. It's about having the right person to play Scott McKnight, the character. He's a basketball player but, more importantly, a human being looking for love and having to navigate the same playing field as us all. But he has women throwing themselves at him all the time. I thought Common could relate to that guy's quest to decide which woman is real, and bring some real life experience to the role. Not to mention he's gorgeous. Ladies love him, guys respect him, and he can ball.

You also got to work with Pam Grier (Foxy Brown) and Phylicia Rashad (The Cosby Show) on this.

It's like working with a god. That's Foxy Brown! It was pretty awesome. It was hard to concentrate with Pam Grier or Phylicia Rashad being on set.

You've always been a strong woman, but you're also a style icon -- you're a Cover Girl and you've made women with curves fashionable.

I think we know how beautiful we are, men know how beautiful we are. It's just the media and the fashion houses that need to play catch-up. They still haven't caught up. They've still got a lot of work to do. Women with curves are women. We're women, for God's sake. We're 60 million strong. We're like this, we're like that, but we're not shaped like a stick. Most of us. And you can keep throwing that image at me over and over and over, but it's still not going to make me fit in clothes that don't fit. It's distorting who we should be. I don't know who we're pumping these images out for, but I do believe that this age of information is not going to tolerate that anymore.

Put On Your Crown
Photo from Grand Central Publishing
It's unfortunate that even African American girls are now becoming anorexic and bulimic because of these bullshit-ass images that people are showing in magazines. Yeah, it looks great on a page. But it's not real. These images are airbrushed like graffiti on a wall. I think that this is not a healthy thing for these young girls coming up. And I think that it's something that we should not stand for -- and that our daughters, who we want to grow into healthy, happy women, should not tolerate.

It's not women doing this to each other -- it's the media. It should be, "Hey, you're size 2, hey, you're size 10, hey, you're size 22. We're sisters. Let's do this." Can you make that in my size? Can you make this work for my body? The market is demanding it. I pay for beauty, I pay for hair, but I can't fit that dress. So they know they have to treat us like beautiful people we are.

What's next for you movie-wise?

Welfare Queen. It'll be a biopic, sort of a Catch Me if You Can with welfare, if you will, about Dorothy Woods, who was a con-artist. There will be more costume changes than Sex and the City -- and believe me, I'm not happy about it. But it's a great role because Dorothy Woods is slick and smart.

You're one busy lady. Besides making movies, you've got an album coming up -- and you just released a book too.

Music-wise, I have a jazz album due out in about a month. It will be recorded live because I want to capture the same energy I get when I'm performing on stage. It always goes to another level on stage, and I want to get that energy on the record.

And I have a book out called Put On Your Crown: Life-Changing Moments on the Path to Queendom, which is about building self-esteem and finding out who you are -- that's what I've always been about my whole career, empowering young girls. It's about those moments that stop you, right in your tracks. Those moments in your life that change you.


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