A day after winning a Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award in sunny Los Angeles, California, Queen Latifah made her way to the Binghamton cold to speak about her career in entertainment and the lessons she has learned from her time in the industry.
Latifah began her career as a rapper in the 1990s, before moving into television. She starred in the sitcom “Living Single” for five years before going on to appear in films including “Bringing Down the House,” “Beauty Shop” and “Hairspray.”
And while excitement brewed Monday night in Binghamton University’s Osterhout Concert Theater, Latifah, born Dana Owens, got a flat tire about an hour before her scheduled appearance. She kept her fans updated via her Twitter, including a selfie of her with the repairman. Though she was scheduled to begin her talk at 8 p.m. on Monday, Latifah did not arrive at the Anderson Center until close to 9 p.m.
Jazell Johnson, assistant director of case management and budgeting with the Dean of Students’ Office, moderated the discussion, which opened with a dialogue about the beginning of Latifah’s career. Latifah said that she was excited to be on the East Coast, where she began her career. She also stated that she was excited for the opportunity to have the chance to speak with someone, rather than just at an audience.
“I don’t often get a chance to just have a conversation,” she said. “I’m from the community, my heart is in the community and I love to communicate with people.”
Latifah also shared her three biggest rules for life. She described the importance of perseverance, finding people who can tell you the truth and being courageous when following your dreams.
She also spoke about a panel she was recently on at the South by Southwest Music Festival in March. There, she moderated a discussion about the Let Girls Learn initiative, spearheaded by first lady Michelle Obama, who was joined on the panel by Missy Elliott, Diane Warren and Sophia Bush.
While she described the experience of working with the first lady as surreal, Latifah reminded audience members that these moments are out there for everyone to experience if they are work hard and are present.
“Somebody’s taking a picture of my life, but I’m actually living it,” she said. “Don’t miss life worrying about your phone.”
After the moderated discussion led by Johnson, the forum was opened up to questions from the audience, prompting several to insightful answers from Latifah. In particular, a question asked about Latifah’s role on the 1990s TV show “Living Single” and its role as a point of entry for afrocentric culture into mainstream culture led to a thoughtful response.
“What’s important … is that we demand more diversity,” Latifah said. “[We] no longer have a place where you can see [the afrocentric culture] on network TV.”
Latifah also discussed her career path, and how she has been able to switch gears between being a singer, actor and businesswoman. She said it is important to look for links between one’s interests and talents, however different they may seem to be at first.
“Knowing who you are is important,” she said. “Allow yourself to develop over the years.”
Latifah knows firsthand the power of development, both on screen and off, as her characters have evolved to match her increasing confidence and experience in acting.
“I like to play different parts because I have different aspects of my character,” she said, when asked about how her winding career path has affected her choice of roles.
Dara Riegel, a career counselor at the Fleishman Center, asked Latifah about her experience as an entrepreneur and how she stayed motivated even when she experienced early failures with her company, Flavor Unit Entertainment.
“We just wanted to move up,” Latifah said. “It’s really important to have good people around you [for support].”
Max Maurice, a member of several Student Association Programming Board committees and a junior majoring in electrical engineering, found the question and answer session to be his favorite part of the program.
“Although not everyone got to ask their questions, the answers Latifah provided really showcased her ability to be a people’s person and an entertainer,” Maurice said.
And as a people person, Latifah was able to connect with many graduating seniors entering the final weeks of college.
“I’m just looking forward to life,” she said, with her signature grin.