Twenty-five years after Queen Latifah because the first woman to receive the Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance, her winning song “U.N.I.T.Y.” — which directly addressed the disrespect of women in hip-hop and more generally addressed the lack of mutual respect in modern society — is more relevant than ever. “It’s just unfortunate for me that those verses still need to be used today. They still apply today,” she tells Yahoo Entertainment during a time of great unrest and national protest.
“We still have to find respect for one another. We’re still watching people get killed in the streets, murdered, and at the hands of police officers whose hearts just are hardened. It’s heartbreaking,” Latifah continues. “And we still have domestic violence. The things that I talk about on that record … nothing has changed. As far as my mindset, it’s just sad that we still have to talk about the same things 25 years later.”
But the rapper, actress and entrepreneur, who is celebrating the second year of the Queen Collective — a short-film mentoring and development program developed in partnership with Procter & Gamble and Tribeca Studios that aims to promote gender and racial equality among filmmakers — is staying positive, because she believes society in a “pivotal place.”
“We want to give people opportunities to create careers and be able to tell a unique story. We want to make this playing field a little more even,” Latifah says of the Queen Collective’s mission. “I think diversity is a challenge, because we need to be in the room and we need to have our voices heard. And if our story is not told through our lens, then are you really getting the true story? It’s not just about, ‘Hey, let's take some money and give it to someone who has a story to tell.’ It's about supporting that person, helping them to produce the project, being on the phone with them, to mentor them when things are tough or helping them to figure out a situation. So I want to make sure I continue to support people's stories. And the Queen Collective is an opportunity for me to help people make change.”
As for how society can and must change in general, Latifah elaborates: “I feel like we got the floor — what are we going to do with it? This has been a really tough year, what a tough year — not tough for you or me right now, because we're breathing, we’re alive, we have voices. We have a platform that we’re sharing right now, and there are people whose lives are gone. And there are hundreds of thousands of people whose lives are gone from this pandemic, just overwhelmingly black and brown. So for people to not look at that and say, ‘What can I do about it?’ would make no sense. So right now we have an opportunity to change a lot of things, and we have to take this energy. And it seems like many people in our country are feeling and be smart about it.”
While Latifah encourages concerned citizens to vote (and to vote with their wallet by being wise about which businesses get their money), she also stresses that people of color can’t affect change on their own — everyone has to step up and get involved. “I also believe that our white brothers and sisters have to evolve — they have to evolve spiritually, mentally, physically. They’ve got to get involved and do something. It's not enough to be sad,” she says. “We didn’t set this thing up the way it is, and we can't dismantle it by ourselves. We need everybody to get involved with this. You need to check it right in your own household … and you’ve got to say, ‘OK, I’m not with that. I’m not going to be that. And I’m going to show you how different I can be.’ It’s always hard to break with the past, but you’ve got to do it, the family forward.”
Looking back on her ’90s hip-hop career, when “U.N.I.T.Y.” became her biggest hit, Latifah says, “I remember how much fun it was — and I also remember how powerful it was. There were a lot of things I wanted to talk about that weren’t really necessarily just b.s. and partying. Some of it wasn’t pretty, but at the same time, there was a lot of voices out there that had a lot to say about a lot of different things, and we spoke to our community.” And now Latifah is hoping that young artists — be they filmmakers or recording artists — can send similarly passionate messages in 2020.
“I implore [current] rappers to speak about what they see happening in their communities and in their worlds,” she says. “Because they are actually the communication devices to the rest of the world.”
All four films from the Queen Collective’s inaugural year, as well as the premiere of this year’s films, will air as a special on BET this Saturday, June 13, at 9 p.m. ET, followed by an encore presentation Sunday at 1 pm. ET.
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