Over the last four years, Queen Latifah’s Queen Collective has developed into a flourishing pipeline for women and non-binary filmmakers of color in both the film and advertising industries.
“We’re finally cooking with gas in the way that I would like it to be, in the way that I originally saw it,” Latifah tells Variety, calling on a break from rehearsals for the 54th NAACP Image Awards, which she hosted last Saturday night.
Latifah opened the show with a rousing rendition of “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die,” reminding audiences that the First Lady of Hip-Hop also has Academy Award-nominated pipes. Ultimately, the veteran awards ceremony emcee earned rave reviews for keeping the show upbeat, on brand and right at two hours, plus she stunned in four wardrobe changes.
During the broadcast, too, was a special segment called “Direct Effect,” which celebrated women filmmakers. Procter & Gamble, a presenting sponsor of the Image Awards, was behind the salute, essentially broadcasting their dedication to the mission they’ve set out on alongside Latifah’s Flavor Unit Entertainment (her company with Shakim Compere) and Tribeca Studios.
The Queen Collective is the signature initiative in P&G’s Widen the Screen program, which addresses the systemic bias and inequality in advertising and media. The initiative launched in 2018, when Latifah first met with P&G chief brand officer Marc Pritchard. “We said, ‘We have to do something’ and this was the result of it,” she recalls. “We created this program to make sure that that we can increase that visibility behind the screen, as well as in front of the screen.”
Latifah shares some stats: “Not even 10% of all directors of commercial advertising were women, yet we represent over 50% of the buying power.” With women essentially running households across the country, it begs the question, “Who’s telling our stories and who’s marketing to us? Who’s coming up with these ideas?”
Thus, the premise of the initiative is simple. “Directors are decision-makers, who build their crews and their talent rosters,” Latifah explains. “So, the more directors we have at the helm, who are women and non-binary people of color, the more they will open up the opportunities and people will go on to be successful.”
And they’ve made great progress: Latifah estimates more than 100 people have been hired through the Queen Collective — 75% of whom are people of color.
“Those people go on to create diversity,” she says. “First, they get the skills and opportunity, then they go on to work for other people and pass it along. That’s the goal — create more opportunities in film and advertising because the numbers are just horrendous, so we’ve got to build up that pipeline.”
As an executive producer of “The Equalizer,” Latifah has witnessed that problem from the other side of the fence.
“When we’re out looking for people to hire in different areas of our crew, it can be very challenging, because there’s not enough diversity in the pipeline,” Latifah says, noting the industry’s responsibility to step up. “We have to train and teach and watch the stars in different departments and make sure that they are promoted, that they’re given that training, so that when we make the call, someone’s there.”
Latifah adds, “Even when the call for diversity was there, they couldn’t fill those shoes with experienced people. Why? Because those people hadn’t been given an opportunity to learn and train and become experienced. It requires that opportunity, so that’s what we’re doing here. As we continue to grow, we’ll continue to grow that pipeline of available people who can make it happen.”
Now in its fourth season, the Queen Collective tapped six directors — Imani Dennison, Luchina Fisher, Contessa Gayles, Idil Ibrahim, Vashni Korin and Jenn Shaw — to produce five original documentaries and, for the first time, a scripted short.
“This is one exciting season,” Latifah says. “Because the reality is, the moment we announced the Queen Collective, we got so many treatments for shorts that there was no way we could do them all, and it’s so tough leave them behind. So each year we’ve added more and more, and this year, we’re up to six films, six new filmmakers and six new stories to tell. The most important part of it is people need to see themselves represented.”
Not only are these stories ones audiences haven’t experienced before, Latifah says, but they’re also a product that’s really fun to watch. The Season 3 short film, “Team Dream,” for example, was among the contenders for best short documentary at the Academy Awards.
“[It’s] a great story about a couple of seniors who are friends and want to compete in this swimming contest. Another one of our shorts is called ‘Gaps,’ a young girl named Sydney who struggled with her self-esteemed over her gapped front teeth. It’s an amazingly adorable story.” Latifah says, before laying out the bottom line. “If we don’t give the opportunity, you might not see that story.”
The six films will be released throughout the year, beginning with “In Her Element,” directed by Ibrahim, and “Gaps,” directed Shaw. The two films premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival in January and are now available to view on demand across BET platforms (including BET, BET HER, BET SOUL, BET JAMS, and PLUTO TV).
The Queen Collective is just one of the many projects Latifah has in the pipeline, with production on “The Equalizer’s” third season is ongoing. Next, on March 9, she will participate in the unveiling of a new monument in Harriet Tubman Square in her hometown of Newark, N.J., which coincides with the launch of her latest series “Monumental” on Audible. The project marks Flavor Unit’s third to be released under its first-look development deal with Audible, following “Streets, Rhymes & Sugar: A Hip-Hop Memoir” (released August 2021) and “Unity in the Community” (released last month).
More information about the Queen Collective is available on P&G’s website.