Queen Latifah’s influence on black culture stretches back decades and now she’s finally receiving the recognition she deserves.
Later this month, Queen Latifah will become one of seven honorees for the W.E.B Dubois Medal, Harvard’s highest honor in the field of African American studies. While Latifah is no stranger to awards, this honor will place her in the same company as Maya Angelou and Ava DuVernay.
Latifah first entered the entertainment world as a young, plus-sized rapper with a lot to say about society and its messages to women, even winning a Grammy award for her girl-power anthem, U.N.I.T.Y. But for a lot of black people, specifically plus-size black women, her largest impact on our community came from diversifying our screens as a romantic lead.
When Latifah first got her start as an actress, she played the lead role in Living Single as Khadija James. Her character had her own business and just as much of a love life (if not more) as her smaller female co-stars. Her size was never an inhibitor when it came to the men in her life.
She went on to become a staple in black romantic comedies, starring in movies like Beauty Shop and Last Holiday.
Like most tenets of black culture, black film has had a larger impact on the overall television and film industry. Whether white women like Rebel Wilson want to acknowledge it or not, plus-size black actresses like Queen Latifah, and even Mo’Nique, didn’t just open the door for plus-size black actresses to get more opportunities, but white actresses too.
But perhaps the best part about Latifah’s acting career isn’t just that she was one of the first consistent leading ladies in rom-coms, but that her size is rarely ever a part of the storyline or a factor in her desirability. She’s just another beautiful woman being courted by an unrealistically perfect man in a feel-good rom-com. Not to mention that she seems to always have the best co-stars (ahem, Morris Chestnut), proving that traditionally attractive men can be and are attracted to plus-sized women without it being a fetish.
Her normalization of a non-typical leading lady only paved the way for actresses today like Amber Riley in Glee, Jill Scott in Why Did I Get Married, and Gabourey Sidibe in Empire. Larger women are even being shown in a more sex-positive light, which was unheard of before Latifah came on the scene.
Still, it would be a lie to say that body diversity isn’t still a major issue in Hollywood, evident by the rarity of a racy scene with a larger woman. Sidibe, who filmed a sex scene for Empire, said that afterward, the cameraman told her just how rare it is to film plus-sized women in that way.
“After we were shooting it, the camera guy came over and he said, ‘I’ve never shot a scene like this. And I’ve never seen a scene like this.”
Even though opportunities for plus-size black women in romantic roles have become better, Hollywood still has a long way to go. Black TV and film might be a little ahead of the curve when it comes to full body representation (thanks to QL), but there’s still so much work that needs to be done when it comes to showing plus-size black women as sexual beings.
Queen Latifah is revered as a pioneer in her music and a trail-blazer in TV and film. But her greatest impact has been her ability to pave the way for black women, especially plus-sized black women, who have looked up to her since the 90s.
It’s time the world finally gives her the acknowledgment she deserves, and this honor is just the start.
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Photo: Queen Latifah / Facebook