Empowering women has been a major focus of Queen Latifah’s career, from “Ladies First” to “U.N.I.T.Y,” to the acting roles she selects in movies like Bessie and Hollywood. Now, Queen Latifah is taking that feminist mindset to women of color filmmakers.
For the second year in a row, Queen Latifah is showcasing new short films with her program called the Queen Collective. In partnership with Procter & Gamble and Tribeca Enterprise, the New Jersey native will be premiering two new short films from this year’s winners (and two from last year) on June 13th (9:00 p.m. EST) on BET Her.
The Queen Collective winners receive mentorship, education, funding, distribution, media opportunities. Pre-COVID, they would have premiered their documentaries in-person at the annual Tribeca Film Festival.
During a virtual media roundtable, Queen Latifah, Marc Pritchard (Chief Brand Officer, Procter & Gamble), and Paula Weinstein (Chief Content Officer, Tribeca Enterprises) talked about what inspired the creation of the program. This year’s Queen Collective winners (Samantha Knowles, Nadine Natour and Ugonna Okpalaoka) were also at the roundtable and went into detail about their new projects.
The Need for the Queen Collective
With the backdrop of the COVID-19 global pandemic and the protests against police brutality taking place daily all over the country, the work of creatives is even more daunting.
“What this Queen collective represents is actually focusing on shining the light on systemic inequalities, shining the light on racism and bias and prejudice, as well as actually taking systemic action to eliminate systemic inequality,” said Pritchard, adding that the idea for the Queen Collective started brewing a few years ago after a panel on gender equality that he and Queen Latifah both attended.
“A few months later, we conceived of Queen Collective, which was a program to be able to get Black and brown women behind the camera because believe it or not only about 10 percent of films are directed by women and fewer than 1 percent are directed by women of color,” continued Pritchard.
“I want to take my hat off to the young people who are doing great work and to our young filmmakers,” added Paula Weinstein. “These films were made by young filmmakers who had to face COVID in the middle of shooting their film and finish it. Despite the difficulties of not being able to continue shooting in person and having to work long distance. Nothing stopped them. There was a complete determination.”
Queen Latifah shared that one of her lifelong friends had just passed away from COVID-19 the day before the roundtable, but she still found the strength to show up for her young filmmakers.
“These directors have had these film,s had these concepts and was shooting this before 2020 before the world turned upside down right in front of our faces. And what is interesting is how timely both of these films are,” the Grammy and Emmy winning artist said. “it's just divine almost that this was even possible. Here we are about to launch these wonderful films by these women of color at a time when the world really needs to see and feel diversity.”
Ugonna Okpalaoka is the co-director of Gloves Off, a documentary short film about Tiara Brown, a Black woman cop in DC who is a champion boxer in her off-hours. The film explores her life and the discrimination she has faced.
“This is my first time producing a short film. Essentially it is just really a story about resiliency and it's a story about a woman who is trying to excel in two different areas of her life in two different worlds where she's often been ignored,” said Okpalaoka.
“We definitely wanted to profile this very strong woman who was able to overcome the challenges that she faced in both these spaces in her life that weren't really built for her to succeed,” said Gloves Off co-director Nadine Natour. “We were very drawn to Tiara Brown when we first met her and really enjoyed following her along in her journey.”
With Tangled Roots, filmmaker Samantha Knowles explores hair discrimination, specifically as it relates to Black people.
“Tangled Roots is about the only Black woman in the Kentucky State Legislature and her fight to end hair discrimination statewide. She had some personal experiences with hair discrimination and also noticed that it was something that was happening throughout the country,” said Knowles. “She saw Black men and women being fired from their jobs because of their hair, students being suspended and expelled. She felt compelled to rewrite the rules and fight to eradicate this form of racism.”
Part Of The Solution
When asked what about her experiences in production motivated her to create this program, Queen Latifah explained her perspective.
“Some people think people in my position, or whatever, don't experience racism, sexism, classism, etc. And it's just another level of it every time you level up you experience a different level of it, that's all,” explained Queen Latifah. “I'm a producer because I know if I'm a producer, I become part of the system. I'm able to create a project from A to Z. I'm able to hire who I want to hire or more importantly, make sure that as an executive producer, I'll make sure the producer explicitly goes out there to hire 400 people of diverse backgrounds. Oftentimes, it’s not that someone is trying not to hire, they just hire who they know and who they know happens to be a bunch of white guys, primarily. I'm not having that on my watch.”
Watch tall he short films from the Queen Collective on BET Her on June 13 at 9 pm EST.
Alison Luntz Photography