Nelson George
Music Critic / Documentarian
02:42

What is Queen Latifah's legacy?

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Nelson George talks about working with the Queen on the HBO film Life Support.

Nelson George

Nelson George is a novelist, cultural critic, and filmmaker. After receiving his degree from St. John's University in 1982, George first worked for New York's Amsterdam News, later becoming an editor at Billboard and a columnist for the Village Voice. Many of his books -- both fiction and non-fiction -- have focused on black popular culture. George is the author of Hip Hop America and The Death of Rhythm and Blues, both studies of black urban music, as well as the novels Night Work and Urban Romance. George co-wrote the films Strictly Business (1991) and CB4 (1993); he also directed To Be a Black Man, a short based on a piece he wrote for the Voice that starred Samuel L. Jackson.

Transcript

Question: What is Queen Latifah’s legacy

Nelson George: You know aside from Will Smith, and actually in some ways even superior to Will in certain ways . . . Will Smith is a huge movie star, maybe one of the biggest in the world. Queen Latifah is kind of like this huge cultural figure who is big in movies, but she can sell cosmetics. She’s had talk shows. She kind of represents more than Will does. Most people say Will is like a vacuum in which you read in what you will, you know? He doesn’t give you a lot of personal details. It’s really this package. Latifah seems to represent to women a sense of empowerment and strength that’s beyond her just . . . her actual cultural products. And so getting her to do this film was humongous. It’s the reason the film exists, quite honestly – or certainly exists on the scale . . . I don’t know. I probably would have got it made somewhere. But would HBO have, you know, promoted it the way they did? They did a fantastic job. We played Sundance and the whole shebang. And I think it’s because of her, because she represents a certain strength and a certain kind of integrity that somehow, even though she does stupid comedies, it doesn’t stop people from feeling that way about her. She’s a remarkable figure, and that she’s loved by kids. She’s really respected and loved by women and adults. She’s respected by men. It’s really a unique place she’s carved out for herself, and she’s a lovely person. _________ cliché, but she’s incredibly easy to work with. She’s a lot of fun. She likes to tell lots and lots of jokes. Given her druthers, she would just do comedies all the time probably. She’s got a really strong spirit, and it radiates right through the screen. So I mean she was a dream to work with, and she was very clear about why she did my film and what it was about. And not to make . . . This is not gonna be Bringing Down the House. This is definitely another space. And while we’re in this space, artistically this is what we’re doing. __________ say cut, I can go and fuck around and mess around, but this is where I am. And I think that was one thing I loved about her. She didn’t try and impose any other aesthetics onto it – Hollywood aesthetics or anything like that. She bought into this material, and she was committed to a certain kind of reality for the material.


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