*Queen Latifah was in town recently promoting her new film “Just Wright” and of course I reminded her that statistics of state the likelihood of Black women finding Mr. Right are very, very slim and should they settle. Before I could finish the word statistics, she shot back, “They lie.” After a subtle giggle she said, “I don’t think anyone should just settle and I don’t. I don’t even read statistics in that sense. I think people should live and do whatever works for you. There’s a big wide world out there and if you go to Africa, your odds get better [Laughs].”
So what about the Queen? Is there a Mr. Right in Latifah’s future? “She’s had four or five Mr. Rights,” she snickers, “and she’s just the runaway bride.”
As Leslie Wright in “Just Wright,” Latifah doesn’t stray far from herself.
“It was kind of an ideal fit because we conceived it from the beginning,” she explained. “It was something that my partner Shakim [Compere] and I thought of and so there might be a little bit of me in there. I am a basketball lover and I’m a very nurturing person. I think that I’m very determined and successful in my own right, as Leslie is. I have a great relationship with my father as Leslie does and my mom, too. I wanted to kind of show that. But it’s different. She’s not me. She has a lot of qualities I have though.”
Common said working with you was like working with an old friend?
QUEEN LATIFAH: Well, it really was. I’m glad that we knew each other already. Paula Patton and I are great friends. But Common and I have been friends for many, many years so we didn’t have to create this chemistry—I hate having to create the chemistry. When you get to work with someone who you know or who you’ve worked with before, you don’t have to create the chemistry. You know one another. Common and I, we’re both Pisces, too. Pisces power. We have just always vibed on the same page. So it was never a challenge to work with each other on set. It was always a conversation. Anything that was ever at all difficult was as simple as a conversation. It was never difficult like an argument. Sanaa [Hamri] never had to argue with him. Nobody had to really go there with anyone and we were all just able to communicate. But chemistry wise, it was easy.
If you didn’t know him he’d still treat anyone with the same kindness and respect and thoughtfulness that he’d treat me, knowing me. He’s just that kind of person and that’s a rare quality in a human being for sure. It’s very nice to meet someone like that. Although, don’t lend him any of your books because you’ll never get them back.
How was it decided to cast Common instead of a basketball player, considering his physique?
LATIFAH: Allen Iverson is not six five or over and he’s one of the strongest people to ever play in the league. It’s not just about having some tall guy to compliment us. It’s about having the right person to play Scott McKnight the character. The character is not about looking like a basketball player. He’s about being a person who is a basketball player but more importantly is a human being looking for love and having to navigate the same playing field that we all have to but even more. To the Nth degree but he’s got women throwing themselves at him all the time. I thought that Common could relate more to a guy who has women throwing themselves at him all the time and having to navigate through to who’s the real one. ‘Who wants to be with me for me and who wants to be with Common? Who wants to be with Rasheed? Who wants to be with Scott and who wants to be with Scott McKnight the ballplayer?’ I felt like Common had something, a real life experience that he could bring to that role. Not to mention that he’s gorgeous. Women love him. Guys respect him and I felt that he could bring all that stuff to this character and he could ball. He could bring the physicality to it. I think that we all agreed with that
How do you feel about having an important role in making women with curves fashionable?
LATIFAH: Well, I think we’ve always been here. We’ve always known how beautiful we are. Men have known how beautiful we are. Women know how beautiful we are. It’s just the media that’s had to play catch up, the fashion houses that have had to play catch up and are still not caught up. They still have a lot of work to do to really treat women with curves with respect. I mean we’re women for god sakes! We are who we are and we are sixty million in this country. Sixty million women shaped like that or like this. And it’s not about knocking the size 2’s. The reality is that you can keep selling that image over and over and over it’s still not going to make me fit the clothes that I don’t fit. It’s actually distorting who we should be. I don’t know who we’re pumping these images out for but I think people in this age of information are not going to tolerate that anymore. It’s unfortunate that even African American girls now are becoming anorexic and bulimic because of these bullshit-ass images that people are showing in these magazines. Yeah, it looks great on a page but it’s not real.
How was it working with Pam Grier?
LATIFAH: Working with Pam Grier? That’s like working with a god. That’s Foxxy Brown! It was pretty awesome. It was hard to concentrate working with Pam Grier and Phylicia Rashad.
The Film Strip posed the same question to Common about finding a ‘just right’ mate or if there’s such a thing as a perfect person?
“I don’t think that anyone is perfect,” Common commented, “but there’s somebody just right for each one of us. If somebody is the right person you know it and it’s right. You feel it inside your heart and I think that’s who Leslie Wright (Queen Latifah) was for Scott McKnight (Common). He knew, like, ‘I’ve been looking over here but this is where I should be because I feel like I can be myself with this person. I’m becoming a better person with this person and I’m able to have fun. This woman respects what I do.’ You’ve seen the movie and you’ve seen the scene where Morgan (Paula Patton) listens to him playing jazz music and she’s like [Common acts out Morgan’s disgust]. But when Leslie Wright hears it, she comes in and respects him.
“It’s just knowing a person and you know that feeling when you love somebody. That’s what I really loved about this movie. It has sincerity and a truth to it about what love is about. Two, it reminds us to love ourselves. Leslie Wright really loved herself. She knew she was beautiful. She didn’t take society telling her that she had to be a size two or you can’t be a plus size or that you had to be this color or shape. She was like, ‘I’m beautiful.’ That beauty exuded from within her. At a certain point Scott McKnight recognized that and I think that’s what beauty is. I’m hoping that even the young people will get it. “That’s what I’ve been writing about in my children’s books. I’m like, ‘Man, love yourself. You can be wherever you from. Your hair can be short, it can be coarse, it doesn’t matter. God created you to be beautiful so just love yourself.’ I think this movie hits on that theme.
“Also, there are other positive images of African Americans for all to see. There is a father that is there for his daughter and respects her. There’s the NBA player that’s a good dude, he loves his mother, really respects women and wants to be in love. Images of black people speaking well. These are images that we don’t see onscreen a lot. I mean obviously this movie isn’t as powerful as what I’m about to say, but in the same way of seeing the images of Barack Obama as president, it changed the thought pattern of many. I saw how it affected the thought pattern of my daughter. She wanted to be a dancer three or four years ago and now she wants to be a lawyer and get into politics and maybe be president. Images and visions of these things can change the way that we think and the way that we see ourselves. I think the film is really important when it comes to black love and that’s what makes me so proud. I’m going out and promoting this movie like it’s my album.”
Is there any relationship to your sports history and your character?
COMMON: I can say that I grew up loving basketball. I started playing basketball in my neighborhood and I played point guard in grammar school and in high school for some years until I got injured. Once I got injured I started making my demo tapes and getting into rap. It’s funny how basketball took me to rap and rap took me to acting and acting took me back to basketball.
Were you a ball boy for the Bulls?
Common: Yeah. I was a ball boy for The Bulls. I was there when Michael Jordan first came which was really cool. I actually had a pair of Jordan’s shoes that I got straight from Mike his first year. He gave me a pair of his Jordan’s. I gave them to my father. Mike had signed them and everything, and one time I had a show that my father came to and he was wearing the Jordan’s. I’m like, ‘Dad, you need to put those Jordan’s up, man. What are you doing wearing these? These are collector items.’