Queen Latifah, Queen of Rom-Coms

Celebrating the Queen's legacy of showing the fullness of Black womanhood on screen

Culture & Entertainment

When I think of the icon Queen Latifah, I refer to Oprah Winfrey’s quote about Gayle King: “she is the mother you never had. She is the sister everybody would want. She is the friend that everybody deserves. I simply do not know a better person!”

For her birthday, we’re celebrating Queen’s over three-decade-long acting career and how her repeated role as a love interest put Black women’s beauty front and center on screen.

We saw glimpses of her potential as a rom-com lead in her starring role as Flavor Magazine founder Khadijah James in Living Single. In between her demanding career and kicking it with her girls in a 90s kind of world, she was entertaining a bevy of very fine and successful lovers, from Morris Chestnut, to Cree Williams’ Scooter.

Queen Latifah as Kadijah James on Living Single


It wasn’t until the early 2000s however when Queen would be able to fully embrace her fate as a love interest on the big screen.

In the hip hop centered love story Brown Sugar, Queen plays the best friend to Sanaa Lathan’s main character. While only appearing in a handful of scenes, the scene towards the end when she shares a brief flirtatious encounter with Mos Def’s character deserved to be explored further in its own spinoff film.

Queen would eventually land her own spinoff film with Beauty Shop, the sister film to Barbershop. One of the through lines connecting all of Queen’s characters have been their authenticity. Actress and writer Mindy Kaling once joked about how romantic comedies are akin to science fiction. Fans of the genre find that the suspension of disbelief is a part of its charm. Be that as it may, there’s a lived-iness about the world in which Queen’s characters occupy that feels familiar to me: The communal space of a beauty salon, where the older Black women kiki’d while the much younger girls eavesdropped only to half understand what’s being said anyways; the sound of women’s laughter that punctuated the conversation alongside the sound of running water, and hair dryers and hair curlers.

During a time when the rom-com genre was dominated by thin white women named Meg, Julia, and Sandra, there was a comfort to see a full figured Black woman who wasn’t remotely interested in adhering to those standards. It was always wonderful to see Black women who were reminiscent of my mother and the women in my extended family be loved on in film.

In Just Wright, she plays a basketball-loving physical therapist to Common’s NBA star character who can't get enough of her brains, beauty and heart. In her 2006 Christmas comedy Last Holiday, she plays Georgia, a woman who is propelled by a false medical diagnosis that tells her she only has a short time left on earth to leave her old life behind and live her life to the fullest. Despite its dark premise, we spend about two hours being charmed along with the rest of the characters who have the fortune of crossing paths with Georgia, including LL Cool J’s character who confesses his undying love for the Queen. And while her comedic timing is everything, she is never the butt of any joke.

Even in films like 1996’s Set It Off where she played badass janitor Cleo and 2015’s Bessie where she starred as the legendary blues singer Bessie Smith, Queen showcased Black lesbian love and sex on screen, representing the Black queer love that’s often erased from Black mainstream stories.

Queen’s presence on screen has always felt like a balm without feeling overly twee. She wasn’t an ingenue, a young clumsy woman looking for a man to steady her. She wasn’t a cynic whom love just sort of happens to against her will. Queen carved a career out of playing characters who were fully realized even as they dealt with their struggles. She invited a generation of Black women who were neglected by mainstream film to envision themselves as being worthy of love, or just as her name says, as worthy of being Queen.

The emergence of a week-long tension headache told me that I needed to figure out a way to minimize and relieve my stress. In addition to daily magnesium supplements and meditation, I also found myself wanting to orgasm (the health benefits are hard to ignore) and do so at least every other day.

I was determined to set the mood and engage in some erotic self-focus by way of masturbation, and I wanted to do so with a little more variety than my wand vibrator provides. My commitment to almost daily masturbation was affirmed even further with the arrival of what would become my new favorite sex toy, the viral Lovers’ Thump & Thrust Dual Vibrator.

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If there is one artist who has had a very successful and eventful year so far it’s Mary J. Blige. The “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul” shut down the 2022 Super Bowl Half-time show along with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, and Eminem, she also performed at NBA All-Star weekend and now she is being honored as one of Time's most influential people of 2022.

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These days it seems that we’re all trying to heal from childhood wounds, and though I’m a big advocate for cutting people off – family included – I’ve come to learn how challenging that actually is. But also, it’s not always necessary if you have a parent who is open and committed to doing the healing work along with you, a mother, for example, who is receptive to her truth. But this also means you are receptive to the reality that parents are humans who often take cake crumbs from their parents and so on. It’s not to say that you have to accept piss-poor treatment because they’re human, but if any of us are going to embark upon a healing journey, we must acknowledge even the difficult truths.

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Queen Latifah is saying no to unhealthy and dangerous lifestyles especially when it comes to her career. Since the beginning, the rapper/actress has always been a body-positive role model thanks to the range of characters she has played over the years that shows that size doesn’t matter. In an interview with PEOPLE, The Equalizer star opened up about taking on roles that don't compromise her health.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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