2016-06-30
Queen Latifah rings in the New Year playing Georgia Byrd, a reserved, church-going New Orleans department-store worker, in "The Last Holiday," a remake of the 1950 movie of the same name. When diagnosed with a terminal illness, Georgia throws caution to the wind, quits her job, turns to her "Book of Possibilities"--a repository of all her hopes and dreams--and heads to Europe to accomplish everything she'd been putting off. Like Georgia, Queen Latifah chased her dreams and achieved them. A pioneer in the rap world, her debut album "All Hail the Queen" is considered one of the best hip-hop albums of all time. She has also conquered the small screen, starring in the hit sitcom "Living Single" for five seasons and hosting a talk show for two. Queen Latifah, born Dana Owens, made her movie debut in Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever," and was nominated for an Oscar for her role as Mama Morton in "Chicago."

Contributing Editor Ellen Leventry spoke with Queen Latifah recently about her own spiritual journey and what she would do with only three weeks to live.

How would you describe your own spirituality?

I was baptized a Baptist, but I'm just Christian, as far as I'm concerned. I could go in any church, doesn't matter if it's Baptist, Protestant, Episcopal, or Catholic.

In the movie, the character you play, Georgia Byrd, has a "Why Me?" moment during a choir number at a church service. You've experienced some hard times in your life, including the passing of your brother in a 1995 motorcycle accident. Did you ever have a "Why, God? Why, me?" moment?

A 'Why Me' Moment
I definitely had a "why" moment--"Why us? Why my mom?" You know... "Why my dad?" When my brother passed away, that was definitely a "why?" I don't even know if it was just a "why me?" But it was surely a big old "why." And luckily I was able to come through that and kind of open myself up to the divine design of it all. That's not something that I liked or expected. I felt my family was my strongest foundation and didn't think anyone could touch us like that, anything could touch us in that way. Especially at that age--I'm 22 years old when this happened, my brother's only 24--and it's like, whoa. And I'm like, "Why [would this happen] to my mom?," she's such a good person. So, all of this stuff is running through my head.

Sometimes I'm thinking that he was a cop and maybe because he went in this way he didn't go in a worse way. Maybe something bad out there didn't happen to him, something that would have been worse for all of us. I don't know. I always leave open that things happen for a reason, and I don't understand that reason always, but it's something I have to accept. So, it's kind of where I left that situation.

Things Happen for a Reason
But I really believe that God had his hands on me the whole time, and my family as well, and we've come through it and we really probably didn't think we could. I did get some little lessons throughout this thing happening, and I just remember one of the thoughts that was planted in my mind--I think by God--was that "don't let it all go": Don't let everything go, because you're going to make it through this.

"God is my homeboy. Jesus is my homeboy."
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  • People would say to me, "Sorry about your brother, can I have your autograph?" And I would feel like, you don't care about me, you don't care about my brother, all you care about is your stinking autograph. You don't care about Queen Latifah, she's not a human to you. It really bummed me out, and I almost left, stopped doing this thing.

    But then there were other people who were extremely supportive, like Patti Labelle, who had lost a couple of her sisters, and Heavy D, who had lost a couple of his brothers, and friends and my family and people who just kind of showed me another perspective, and a lot of other people who didn't know who I was but just cared. So, the balance started to swing back and woke me up again, so I hung around.

    After the death of your brother, you started the Lancelot H. Owens Scholarship Fund. Like Georgia in the movie, did you realize there's something good coming out of it after your "Why, me?" moment?

    A lot of good things happened to me after that, which almost made me wonder why. I'd be happy about them, but then I'd be totally depressed, I was sad, I was like, well, the whole point of this is being able to share it with him and he's not here for me to share it with, and that made me sad sometimes. But there were other people that were helped, and just like the scholarship foundation was born and helped so many people, who help so many other people by mentoring and passing it on, something hugely positive has come from this.

    I think Georgia Byrd was inspired or kind of forced to just go live, to make a decision to either lay down and die right there or just pick up and live all of the dreams and desires that she's had all this time, but she's held back for one reason or another, mostly fear and worry. And so she inspired me to live better. You don't realize sometimes when you play these characters that they're going to impact your life like they do. It's like reading another person's life, living in another person's shoes for a few months. By living in Georgia Byrd's shoes, it just made me realize how important life is, how short time is, how important it is to follow your dreams and your goals. That's part of who you are and you take away from it by not doing it. Look at all the things she was able to do. She was so nervous before.

    Georgia speaks to God a lot in the film, just in a conversational manner. Do you speak to God on a regular basis or do you have a favorite prayer or mantra that you carry with you?

    Speaking to
    God
    I usually say the Our Father, and that's my old faithful prayer. Then I learned the prayer of Jabez, which is cool, too. Most of the time I just talk. I just thank God first for everything. And then we just talk about whatever's on my mind or whatever I'm thinking about. Sometimes I pray when I really feel like I need God to help me with something, and sometimes we just have conversations. We just kick it. God is my homeboy. Jesus is my homeboy. My mom would always crack up at me. I'm glad someone finally put it on a t-shirt, `cause I used to say that all the time. I'm like, "Ma, Jesus is a gangsta." Think about it, when he's ready to preach, he gathered up a crew. Now, 12 dudes walking around sound like a gang to me. But it was just a gang for God, a gang for Jesus, which is all good. Of course he can relate to the poor.

    "Just try to find simple pleasures and get ready to get on up out of here."
    Read more >>


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  • Can you recite your favorite prayer for us?

    Her Favorite Prayer
    Heavenly father thank you for this food, for the nourishment of my body, in Christ's namesake, let's eat!

    Georgia goes through a transformation in the movie. You've made your own personal transformation from pioneer in the rap world to Oscar-nominated actress. How do you account for your transformation? Did you have a "book of possibilities" like Georgia did?

    I've made those books, but then I always lose them. I don't have a specific book of possibilities. You know what it is, whatever I feel in my heart and whenever I feel I can do something. I never pictured myself as just a rapper, I always wanted to act and do whatever else I could do. I always felt like I could do a lot of different things. I felt like [unless] I could call myself the best rapper on the planet, then there was no way I was going to put all my eggs in one basket. I just wasn't raised like that. That's my momma. "Don't put all your eggs in one basket at one time. If you're gonna do that make sure you go to college at the same time and have something to fall back on."

    So when it came to making music, I love making music, but I didn't feel like I was the best out there. I felt there were males and females that might be better than me, and so I always kept my eyes open and my mind open for some other opportunity and creating another opportunity. So, that's what we always did. I think other people had the opportunity to do that, it's just that some people need someone else to go first and some people are the one to take a chance and go for it. I'm kind the one to go for it, I'm that type.

    If you were given three weeks to live, what would you do with that time?

    If She Only Had Three Weeks to Live
    I'd definitely spend time with my family. I'd give all my money away to those who are going to get it, make sure there's no fighting after I'm gone. There ain't that much to fight over, but you see people fight over five dollars. Take care of any bills. I don't want to leave my family with any burdens. And I'd just spend time with family and friends and then I'd probably just go somewhere I really wanted to go. I'd go on safari or to the Great Wall of China or Jamaica.

    Go to the beach for a while?

    Ya'mon! Just hang out in Jamaica and drink a Red Stripe and relax. Just enjoy the water. I would enjoy nature. One of the things I've always enjoyed the most is just the world: I'd look at the sky, swim, and hold babies. Since I wouldn't have time to have one, I'd just have to hold my little nephew. And watch the kids laugh `cause they always crack me up when they laugh, 'cause they'll laugh at anything. Just try to find simple pleasures and get ready to get on up out of here.

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