Queen Latifah won't let her soaring movie career get in the way of her need to speak out — even on the public backlash against celebrities who get involved in politics.
"I think people just get mad because we actually can speak and a lot of people will hear us," Latifah says. "People say, 'Well, who are you to be on a stage, talking about this?' But if they had a chance, they might do it too."
Latifah's new film, The Cookout, steers clear of political controversy. It's the story of a basketball star who becomes an overnight millionaire, moves to a highly exclusive suburb and tries to throw a party for his inner-city friends and family.
"Anytime someone who grows up in a humble neighborhood, who's used to a lot of love and support from their family, but not used to having a lot of money, suddenly gets $30 million … it changes their lives. Everything changes around them," says Latifah, née Dana Owens. "That's something that I can relate to."
Urging People to Get Involved
The 34-year-old rapper-turned-actress has emerged in recent years as a force in Hollywood. She earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in Chicago, which she followed up with box-office hits Bringing Down the House and Barbershop 2.
But the sought-after actress is not that far removed, at least spiritually, from the trailblazing hip-hop queen who emerged in a notoriously misogynistic musical genre in the late 1980s, and reigned as the best-known female hip-hop artist for nearly a decade.
Never afraid of taking a stance on an issue, Latifah is urging Americans to get involved in the coming election. She thinks people should see the anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, even if they don't think much of filmmaker Michael Moore.
"You can't really complain unless you become part of the process, and to become part of the process is really exciting if you would allow it to happen," she says.
"If you actually would just watch the news a little bit and pay attention, read newspapers, really do a little homework and go see movies like Fahrenheit 9/11," she says.
Looking Back to Her Childhood Roots
"And don't just buy everything Michael Moore is talking about. If you don't agree with it, check it out."
In The Cookout, Latifah plays a security guard who cracks down on Todd Anderson, who plays basketball player Storm P, the New Jersey Nets' No. 1 draft pick.
Danny Glover plays a conservative Republican judge, one of the snooty neighbors who fears Anderson is bringing the worst element into his suburban paradise, and Farrah Fawcett plays his hot-tempered wife.
Ja Rule plays a thug from the old neighborhood who crashes the barbecue with a get-rich-quick scheme.
Latifah didn't have to reach so far to play a security guard from New Jersey. Both her father and brother were cops from the Garden State, and as one of the film's writers, she said it was easy to create comic mayhem for the big screen.
"Come on, it's family," she says. "You can't really do anything about it. That's what The Cookout is about. You know? Whatever happens, you say, 'Have a good time, see you at the next one!' "