Queen Latifah is putting “ladies first” in a new project.
The award-winning actress and singer recently announced the Queen Collective to help women make films — or, as she tells Yahoo Entertainment, to ensure “that the queens have an opportunity.” In a partnership with Procter & Gamble, the initiative will find two unknown and diverse female directors, give them all the resources they need to tell their stories “from A to Z,” and then distribute the films.
“There are just not enough female directors,” the star of films from Girls Trip to Chicago says of her push to bolster gender equality in the film biz. “This is a small part of what we’d like to do to help change the disparity that we see out there in terms of all the dollars that are given to male directors, all the support that’s given to male directors, and everything we see, yet we’re at least half of who’s watching these movies and buying these products. So we want to make sure women have an opportunity … that the queens have an opportunity. The Queen Collective will make sure that happens.”
Being a voice for women isn’t new for Queen Latifah, who was among the founders of We Do It Together, the celeb-backed, femalecentric, nonprofit production company focusing on female empowerment in films, TV, and other media. Her commitment can actually be traced back to her teen years as a young rapper.
“I try to support anything I can in terms of making sure women have an opportunity,” she says. “That’s just who I am. Before I really knew what a feminist was, I was already helping to promote the feminist cause. I was just a 15-year-old rapper. I had no idea that the fact that I wanted to be looked at with respect and treated as such — and that I wrote about that in my rhymes and made records about it that people heard — was really pushing that forward, affecting other young girls and women who felt the same way, and giving other women a voice who felt that they were a little voiceless in hip-hop at that time. Finally, there was someone that was speaking their language.”
Since Queen Latifah, 48, started rapping about female issues in the ’80s — All Hail the Queen came out in 1989, when she was 19 — isn’t she frustrated that she still has to fight so hard just so women’s voices can be heard?
“I would say it’s frustrating — it can be to a point — but we are talking about thousands of years of male patriarchy,” she says. “So I can’t be mad because I started rapping about it in the late ’80s and early ’90s that everything hasn’t changed in a few decades. We have a lot of ideas to bring down the walls of, if you will. I think actually we’ve made a lot of progress in a short amount of time. But the more we bring it to the attention of the public, the more people fight behind the scenes and make sure this is seen in front of the scenes, then we will affect every element of how people see the world.”
She wants to see the world represented equally — and realistically.
“We are fighting to make sure everyone is represented in an equal way — and for who they truly are, not some stereotype of who you are. This is something I had to fight against as a rapper: Every rapper is from the ghetto and went through hell and got shot sometimes. No, we didn’t. I went to Catholic school from third to ninth grade,” the East Orange, N.J., native laughs.
“I didn’t have a lot of money, but this was my experience, and I know many people who lived like that. I listened to rock-and-roll growing up — and so did a lot of my homeboys. Why? ‘Cause we’re from New Jersey, and we love Bon Jovi and Springsteen. We like hip-hop too. But if you let the media tell you, its ‘black people don’t listen to rock-and-roll; they just like R&B and rap.'” She predicts that “millennials will have a big part of changing all these ideas that have been pumped down our throats in our day.”
What about the criticism women face when they do make films — or, heaven forbid, remake them with a female angle, which we saw with the Ghostbusters remake and Ocean’s 8? We point to Sandra Bullock talking about the “unfair” criticism of the former film, saying the cast “literally walked into a firing squad.”
“I think those things will happen, and we will be attacked sometimes and probably held to a standard that is not necessary, but that doesn’t mean we stop. It doesn’t mean we don’t do it again. That means we keep doing it. We continue to do it until you understand it. Until you get it,” Latifah insists. “Here’s the thing — as an African-American woman, I’ve seen so many stories told of the African-American experience. Let’s just say the black experience. As a black woman, seeing stories told about black people that were not who we really are. You can’t take a slice of the black experience and say ‘This is all black people.’ Too many times we’ve seen that. What we want to see is the entire circle, not a slice of the pie. And the whole might not taste good. Everyone is not a Steven Spielberg. For every Spielberg, there are 100 terrible directors, yet they all have an opportunity to make a movie. What we’re asking for is the same opportunity.”
And if given that chance, “I think what people will see is they’ve been missing out a lot by not allowing us to have that opportunity,” she says. “Instead of worrying about what you’ll lose, think about the gift you’re going to receive. It may be something you never would have thought of that now you have. It will become common — like a cellphone. Fifteen years ago, it was ‘What is that thing?’ I had the first one. It was like a purse that you carry with a shoulder strap,” she says with a laugh, referring to those ’90s gems. “The thing was giant and it got really hot. Now, everybody can slip their phone in their back pocket like it’s nothing. This is how commonplace we would like to see it become. We would like to see women have those opportunities and tell their stories and make films and make commercials, to direct, to produce. Be in every element, every part of making the images you see on television, in film, and in advertising.”
Queen Latifah shared her wisdom with some millennials during graduation season, delivering commencement addresses at Rutgers University in her home state and to Strayer University grads in Washington, D.C.:
Queen Latifah says the encouragement she has received through the years by female fans has encouraged her in turn to continue to try to be a trailblazer for women.
“I would run into them along the way, and they had no idea the encouragement they gave me to continue to speak in that way, to feel confident about moving in that way, and moving my career in that way,” says Latifah, who made the jump to TV in the early ’90s, followed later by the jump to film. “All throughout the years I’ve been encouraged by young girls… And not just girls, but girls with different bodies. Just becoming a CoverGirl made them feel different about what they can accomplish. Or being someone who is bigger than a size 10 thinks, ‘Oh, I can be a successful singer because Queen Latifah did it.’ I had no idea I could influence other people.”
She continues: “So this Queen Collective is really important because there’s something special about seeing a woman who comes up with her own idea, who is able to take that idea, hire her own crew, make sure that idea is shot and done and edited and comes to the public eye, and they have a chance to see her vision. She will inspire so many other people by making that happen… This is what you need to be able to show in order to inspire other people, particularly the young girls and men, and let them know this is a normal thing and this is OK. This should not be an anomaly. This should be the norm.”
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