Award-winning actress and singer Queen Latifah 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 business. “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 celebrity-backed, female-centric, non-profit 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.”
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.”
Ever since I was four years old, I remember feeling powerless. I didn’t know it by name then, but looking back, powerlessness is what drove me every night, after I slid under my Raggedy Ann sheets and comforter, to wish and pray that when I woke up, I’d wake up a boy. Not because I felt like a boy inside, but because boys got to have what I couldn’t. Hair that didn’t have to be detangled or combed or braided. Action figures instead of dolls. Race cars with race tracks and pants to play in—always pants. In my four-year-old mind, boys had everything. Freedom. Choices. Power. Pants. But every morning like clockwork, the sun rose, I looked down, and I was denied yet again by The Man Upstairs. I was still Team Pink. I was still a girl.
I wore my disappointment more stoically than my dresses, because somehow I knew this was not a conversation to be had with either parent, or even my big sister (who was obsessed with boys in the acceptable way—with crushes and smiles and day dates to ice skating shows). I didn’t know how to voice the palpable inequity I was absorbing from our society, my culture, the media. That boys were considered the stronger, smarter, faster sex, who should be deferred to and in control. What I couldn’t find words for, but knew from the tips of my bobble ball hair ties to the soles of my patent leather Mary Janes, was that the way girls were devalued wasn’t fair, square or remotely close to justified.
Girls were just as smart and fast and valuable as boys—and once in a while, in between ads for EZ bake ovens and hungry toy babies and household products that would save me from a lifetime of dishpan hands, my TV echoed parts of this truth to me. I saw the “Bionic Woman” and “Wonder Woman” and Billie Jean King with the big glasses and small tennis racket beat the old, blustering Bobby guy in “The Battle of the Sexes.” And then there was Nadia from Romania who proved her ability at the Montreal Olympics, though her dainty and pretty were remarked upon more often than her athleticism and artistry. Even after her repeated displays of superlativeness, she stood there, half-smiling, as they gave most of the credit to her male coach. They might not have been black like me but they were girls like me, girls who liked to rip and run and use their bodies and brains for something other than to attract boys.
In my home, the messages were similarly mixed. My mom had a job just like my dad did. And as a teacher, when I went to work with her, I got to see a woman in charge. Of the space, the lessons, the students. I saw her leadership there, as well as in the house. Mom had as much authority as Dad (if not more) and my dad did the cooking. And since both parents were college graduates and educators, my sister and I were expected to do well in school, go to college and have a career.
Mom even gave my sister and me “School Years” memory books so we could track our progress from Kindergarten through High School. Who our friends and teachers were, our activities, awards, and what we wanted to be when we grew up. This aid to success ended up being one of the most painful reminders of the limited expectations the world had for me. The occupations listed for “Boys”? Policeman, Fireman, Astronaut, Soldier, Cowboy, Baseball Player. But for “Girls”? Mother, Nurse, School Teacher, Airline Hostess, Model, Secretary. In that order.
There was a “fill in the blank” space, so every year from Kinder on I filled it in with “Doctor.” By third grade, someone with a pink marker lined through my “Doctor” and checked “Secretary” instead. I rebelled with my blue marker and rubbed over the pink check next to “Secretary.” I didn’t remember this until I recently found the book, but it spoke volumes that someone in my life thought I was fantasizing if I wanted to be a doctor. In 1976. The same year of the U.S. Bicentennial, 200 years after independence from tyranny was declared and where colonists believed their liberty was worth their death. I, too, was fighting for liberty. My liberty. I wanted Batman, not Barbie, and I was tired of feeling wrong about it.
Years pass, and compliments about my cuteness are directed to me instead of my parents. I didn’t do anything to be cute—DNA did that—so this always feels weird. My mum tells me to not question or argue but just say “thank you.” Dutifully, I do. But being valued solely this way never sits right with me. I wanted “boy-style” compliments, about how clever or strong or skilled at whatever I was—praise that felt earned. I did receive some of this from the adults in my life, right alongside advice like, “Always have bus money so you don’t have to depend on boys for rides,” or, “No one buys the cow if the milk is free,” or, “It’s just as easy to marry a rich man as it is a poor one.”
When my parents separate and divorce, this family fracture ironically gets me more of what I want. Guilt presents include video games and model cars and Star Wars toys. And pants—jeans and corduroys! My mom says when she was younger, she was a tomboy too. She enrolls my sister (and eventually me) in softball, and buys me books about skateboarding but stops short of the skateboard—she thinks I will fall and break my head. If I were a boy, I think, she’d let me break my head. I try to build my own with a plank of wood and wheels from Mom’s ancient metal roller skates. It travels six inches, I fall off and it falls apart. When my dad gets a housekeeper for his new townhouse, she cleans my room and asks him how old his son is. Suddenly Dad won’t buy me any more model cars.
As puberty dawns, boys are still getting the better deal. Most of them grow into muscles and height and undeniable physical dominance. But should this give them more rights? Should more strength automatically equal more power? Boys (and several girls) seem to think so and this thinking is validated at every turn. In government, in movies, in the workplace, in classrooms. They can pick up girls at random and the girls squeal and laugh and cajole the boys to put them down instead of throwing them into the ocean/pool/sofa cushions. All in good fun, right? Not at all a display or reminder of dominance, right? Boys get to act on crushes and initiate kisses and ask for dates without being considered “fast” or “sluts” or “whores.” They also get no periods, no pregnancies, no abortions.
I am handed deodorant, pads and Judy Blume books as my teenage girl starter kit. I dislike the changes and growing pains and expectations of “blossoming into a young woman.” I focus on grades instead of gregariousness—studying instead of a social life. My big sister Lesa, a natural at young womanhood, follows in our grandmother and mother’s kick steps and becomes a varsity cheerleader. I scoff and diminish her choice by saying I’d rather be who people cheer for. Because some girls make fun of other girls for being too “girly.” I do not see the insidious danger of this for decades.
By 1986 I am a senior in high school, and being in the “smart girl” category has been a boon for me. I am not offered a cent for a cute outfit or a good hair day, but Dad pays good money for As and Bs. I also get to wear pants and sneakers and no make up everyday and no one cares. Mom and Lesa are officially the “pretty girls” with pretty power and that is alright by me. I have no jealousy or longing for “pretty” status— though most girls aspire to this, it seems more like a curse than a gift to me. Yes, my mother and sister get preferential treatment and constant compliments, which they enjoy. But I also see them experience the flip side. Men and boys would stalk them both. Put their hands on them without permission. Recklessly follow after them in traffic. This was weekly if not daily for them; for me it was rarely, but it should have been never. It should always be never. But as 99 percent of girls and women will tell you, it’s never never. I am approached by a pimp on a bus who tells me I look sad and he can take care of me. I exit at the next stop and walk the extra mile home to escape him. I am told to smile more times than I am asked for my opinion. One afternoon I’m followed by a man who screams I should be walking behind him and don’t know my place. I run into a 7-11 and stay huddled near the Ms. Pacman machine until he disappears. Oh hell no. Screw being treated like prey. Screw pretty.
Instead I want to be strong and quick. And thanks to Title IX, I can put my body in service to sports—softball, basketball, cross country. I do them all and excel at none. I am average in every way, but the existence of these girls’ teams does not live or die by any one of us having to prove exceptional ability. We have the freedom to suck and stay funded, just like the boys’ teams. This makes me wonder if society needs a version of Title IX not just for the sports field, but for every field. Shouldn’t we demand and legislate programs that provide equal opportunity for both sexes everywhere? So then over time, like with sports, this parity would become the norm? Why not try this out in politics, I think—like maybe in the Senate? After all, there are 100 senators, two from each state, so why not make them 50:50, one male and one female? Wouldn’t that be true equal representation? But I don’t know what to do with these notions, so I keep them to myself. What kind of power do I have to make them happen, anyway? I don’t my want my “smart girl” rep to become a “naive, silly, pie-in-the-sky girl” rep.
High school also offers me a lifelong mentor in the unlikely form of tough-as-nails, no nonsense, AP U.S. history teacher Mr. Safier. He values effort, intelligence and discipline above gender, race, class… or anything else, really. Finally I am celebrated for what I believe counts. Safier is more than safe harbor. He is an equalizer. After repeatedly killing it in his classes, one boy writes in my senior yearbook he’s lived in academic fear of me for almost two years. I love this. Now I have proof. Brains are my field-levelling power. And they are what get me into a top-notch university.
At first, college feels different than high school—better—like there is gender parity. Like “smart” is all that matters. Smart whomevers travel to Boston from wherever to spend four focused years getting smarter. But then the parties start. The blue lights, safety phones and shuttle bus stops are pointed out. Boys casually notice, girls mark their maps. We have political debates. Ideological tangles. We openly protest to take back the night. I make male and female friends of every race and religion and orientation and it all feels equitable and the way the real world should be. I don’t shave my legs all winter. I march with the Black Student Union to the freshman quad to demand I don’t remember what from the Dean. One Christmas I fly home sporting fake Malcolm X glasses, leather Africa medallions and a lot of opinions. My dad picks me up at the airport and later asks everyone in the family but me if I’m a lesbian. Dressed like that, politicized like that, with my “tomboy” history—what else could I be?
What my father does ask me about is what I want to do after college. Whatever it is, I’m told, I should want my boss’ job. That’s where the power is. If you don’t want your boss’ job, you have the wrong job. So if I still want to be a doctor, become Chief of Surgery. If I want to teach, become Teacher of the Year. I do journalism for fun at college because there’s no television station, so I tell him maybe I want to write. Then, Dad says, become the publisher. He sends me articles on mastery and how to achieve it. The bar is set high—as high for me as for the boy he never had, I think, so I accept his challenge. I try to jump that high. Into top positions. Into leadership. Into power.
Unlike Dad though, I think public sector work is for the birds, even when in the “power position.” Dad had achieved that – he rose from community college counsellor to assistant Dean, Dean (the youngest dean in California ever at the time), Vice President, President, then Chancellor of an entire district. He was the top dog, the leader. But then sometimes he would say if he were in the private sector, he would be a CEO making ten times as much money. But it just so happened his heart was in education, and he chose it over what could have been real wealth. Another mixed message I struggled to process. Go for heart or for money or for power? And do they have to be separate?
My power equation, I came to realize, extended beyond my father’s. Mine was leadership, plus affinity, plus money. And, luckily, I told myself, my heart was in writing—television to be specific—a very lucrative field. (Journalism, I’d discovered, paid even less than teaching). So I told him I wanted to follow the Hollywood path. I wanted to come back to California. Come back home.
We probably don’t deserve Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The author and feminist who inspired Beyoncé is now fighting America’s political battles, and man is she good at it.
But that’s not the only hat Adichie’s wearing as of late. She’s also the new face of Boots No. 7 makeup — a British drugstore retailer known for its cult serum that’s a best seller across the pond. (You can purchase the brand in the U.S. at Walgreens.)
The partnership between Boots and Adichie is a match that feels in sync. For years Adichie has been outspoken in asserting that feminism and makeup can co-exist, and the specific campaign she was tapped to lead for Boots hedges on the concept that cosmetics are more than tools to look pretty: They’re vessels to help a woman begin her day. The Cut talked to the author about her foray into the beauty business, the complex relationship she maintains with her hair, and the feminist lesson to be learned from the presidential election.
What frustrates you about the beauty industry? What gives you hope?
The beauty industry is more inclusive than it was ten years ago. There’s a slightly wider range of foundation shades, for example. What I find frustrating is that it should be even more inclusive. The definition of what is beautiful shouldn’t be so narrow. We should have different kinds of women — different body sizes, different shades of skin, and in a way that is consistent, not only occasional.
A note that struck a chord with me in your book Americanah is when Ifemelu, the novel’s protagonist, says, “Hair is the perfect metaphor for race in America.” What did you mean when you wrote that?
Hair is something we see, but we don’t understand what’s behind it, kind of like race. It’s the same way that something seems obvious, but it is really complicated and complex. For example, to see a middle-aged white woman who has highlights is not something everyone in the world necessarily understands, especially if it’s because she struggles to cover her grays. Or if you’re a black women, sometimes the way that your hair grows from your head isn’t considered “professional” by people who don’t know black hair. I don’t think it’s that people are malicious, I think it’s just some people don’t know what the hair that grows from the head of black women actually looks like.
In a recent interview withBlack Enterprise, feminist journalist and activist Gloria Steinem had some refreshing things to say about Black women’s progressive history in the fight for gender equality.
“I thought that [Black women] invented the feminist movement…I learned feminism disproportionately from Black women. ”
Steinem explained that in earlier years, surveys showed that African American women were twice as vocal and biased towards feminist issues and beliefs as their White counterparts. She also spoke on her personal practice of giving the floor to other young women (whether or not they self-identify as feminists) to address concerns for people of varying socioeconomic backgrounds. If she is challenged by younger Black women who say that feminism doesn’t speak to them, Steinem says:
“I don’t say anything. I listen because the point is that we help each other to get dignity and autonomy and freedom. We’re here to help each other.”
Steinem has a history of working with Black feminists. In 1972, Steinem founded Ms. Magazine with Dorothy Pitman-Hughes, the author and child welfare advocate. Steinem was also affiliated with the deceased lawyer Flo Kennedy and worked alongside Alice Walker, making Walker one of the earliest Black editors at Ms.
The famous feminist spoke on the issues of police brutality as well, noting the importance of equally employing women in the police force to calm racially tense situations.
“[W]e haven’t been raise with our masculinity to prove. All the studies show that if a woman cop arrives on the scene, she de-escalates the situation by her presence and a man cop escalates. So while we’re talking as we should about cops looking like the community, how come we don’t say they should be half women?”