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Tribeca Talk: Queen Latifah on How She Built Her Career

When Queen Latifah walked across the stage at her Tribeca Film Festival talk on Friday, moderator and director Dee Rees (“Mudbound”) declared “all hail the Queen.” Looking at Latifah’s career, she’s certainly earned the praise.

The actress, musician, entrepreneur, and author started out in hip-hop, a notoriously “misogynistic” industry, she said. When she came onto the scene in the ‘80s and made a name for herself despite male domination, rappers like Ice-T and Big Daddy Kane took notice and doled out respect.

“At the end of the day, it’s about women feeling good about themselves from the inside out,” Latifah said. “You want to carry yourself with an attitude that uplifts. When these gangster rappers praised my work, it drove home the fact that you can make a difference. We all need this recognition. It’s about positive vibes.”

Latifah said that it is important to follow intuition when deciding a career path. She started to act because she was inspired by Will Smith. Her role in “Chicago” as Big Mama Morton earned her an Oscar nomination in 2003 for best supporting actress. She then recorded an album inspired by her jazz singing character (“The Dana Owens Album”).

In order to give back, Latifah cofounded her own management company, Flavor Unit Entertainment, with film producer Shakim Compere (“Beauty Shop,” “Bessie”) because she wanted to get artists out of the “horrible” contractual agreements she had experienced in the industry. Now, she partners with Proctor & Gamble and Tribeca Film Festival through The Queen Collective to help young filmmakers by supporting their distribution, budget, and production needs.

“All of these dreams were in me, so it was just about when and how,” she said. “Sometimes it’s the timing, how everything is laid out. If you want to do something, you can. If your mind is pulling you, calling you to be better, go to what calls you and find out who you can link up with to make the move.”

Latifah and Rees brought up the two winners of this year’s The Queen Collective initiative: filmmakers B. Monet and Haley Elizabeth Anderson, who each made documentaries that were featured after the talk. In an industry where women are underrepresented, Latifah said that 60% of the crew members featured in these films were women, and because she had so many submissions, she wants to increase from two winners to five next year. Hulu will air the short films, “If There is Light” and “Ballet After Dark,” available to stream on Saturday.

“We had so many submissions, there were so many women who said ‘I want to direct,” Latifah said. “This resonated with me. Women are just waiting for the opportunity. I’m giving people the opportunity who wouldn’t otherwise have it.”

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