As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be in the spotlight. The shiny hair, the outfits, the fake laughing while delicately holding a champagne flute… all these things spoke to me. Unfortunately, I was born more of a Judy Greer than a Judy Garland. What I mean is, if my life was a rom com, I would constantly be cast as the “Quirky Best Friend.” Growing up, I was usually the much less outgoing, moderately less cute, infinitely weirder sidekick to my friends’ adorable social butterflies. To compensate for my lack of conventional “Leading Lady Material,” I became witty, but continued to occupy my position as resident funny girl from the figurative backseat of whatever literal hand-me-down Honda my friends were driving. That is, until I discovered my muse, a Leading Lady who taught me that weird girls could get attention in a “laugh with me” not “laugh at me” kind of way. A muse who is a treasure, a precious gem, and downright regal. This Leading Lady– god bless her sassy self– is Queen Latifah.
Before I tell you how watching Queen Latifah movies changed my life, I think you should first know exactly how disastrous my attempts at stealing the spotlight truly were. Case in point: during our sixth grade class’s production of Isis and Osiris (a play about ancient Egypt), I desperately wanted to show off my freshly-sprouted AA’s, and wear the silk off-the-shoulder number and tarty red lipstick that came with playing Leading Lady Isis. However, I was too shy and awkward, and was instead cast as Maiden #2– truly the antithesis of glamour. Instead of a scandalous silky dress, my costume was an actual potato sack with a head hole and arm holes cut in it. I had one line (“Ooh, it feels so soft and smells so good!”), which I cooed while running my fingers through my hair after Isis gave me an onstage makeover and used her goddess powers to fix my gnarly weave. It was embarrassing, to say the least. Of course, my best friend Ashley got cast as Isis, and got to wear the slutty outfit that my pubescent self dreamed of.
My Judy Greer-dom persisted long into my college years. When the retail store I worked at participated in a local fashion show, I was chosen to be the opening and closing model. Finally! I was the star– the Kate Moss of this Sunday afternoon fashion extravaganza for suburban moms– and was getting the attention I deserved. Unfortunately, I botched my first brush with Leading Ladyhood: sitting in a pile of leaves that stuck to my butt shortly before I had to strut down the runway, and the tent that I changed in falling over while I was in my undies. I had given up– I was simply too clumsy and strange to be Leading Lady Material.
It wasn’t until I was trapped in a hostel in San Sebastian that I discovered my savior, Queen Latifah. Stuck inside during a torrential downpour, my friends and I selected a movie called Las Ultimas Vacaciones (Last Holiday, duh) off of the communal DVD shelf. The so-bad-it’s-good flick features what I consider the most majestic cast in C-List movie history (Queenie, LL Cool J, and Gerard Depardieu), and tells the story of a spinstery department store employee/ Lean Cuisine patron who has been diagnosed with a “terminal illness,” and discovers her divatude while living out her “final weeks” in Prague (SPOILER ALERT: predictably, turns out homegirl received a faulty diagnosis and doesn’t croak at the end). The following over-the-top scenes make the movie completely wonderful: 1) lots of lip-licking by LL Cool J, 2) Queen ordering every item on a restaurant menu and making no apologies, 3) black diamond-level snowboarding by Miss Latifah, 4) Queen continuously staring at the sky and speaking aloud to “Gawd.” But besides these glorious elements, I was honestly impressed by Queen’s sassy one liners, confidence in herself and her appearance, and her ability to make that fine piece of ass LL Cool J traverse an avalanche for her (no joke–this literally happens in this gold nugget of a movie).
In case you haven’t noticed, Queen Latifah is about a universe away from the blonde, thin, WASP-y, hella boring girls who are typically classified as Leading Lady Material. In case you also haven’t noticed, Queen Latifah– despite being a lesbian IRL– always gets the hottest male counterparts in her movies. LL Cool J, Common (yum), Djimon Hounsou (hubba hubba), and even Steve Martin (old and kind of creepy, but I love Father of the Bride). How does she do it? Well, she’s essentially the female version of Tom Hanks. She loves herself, and doesn’t care if anyone else does (of course, this whole “not being needy” thing causes the luscious-lipped LLs of the world to flock to her). If you want two deserts with your dinner, go for it, baby! If you want to wear Wal-Mart brand sweatsuits to work– even though you are supposedly a powerful business owner– get yourself in some elastic waist pants, post haste! If you want to open up a little restaurant, “bistro style,” and wear denim chefs suits and make LL Cool J wear a chef’s hat even though he is bald– who’s gonna stop ya? Although she’s not conventional Leading Lady Material, Queen would never let anyone put her in the backseat– she’d just push them out of the way and hijack the car for herself. It’s all in the attitude and embracing whatever makes you different.
So, if Queen Latifah can do it, maybe I can, too. And maybe you can, too! Sometimes, all it takes to discovering your inner Leading Lady is a little bit of inspiration. For me, seeing a badass plus-size lady with glowing skin and a big mouth command so much attention let’s me know that there’s room in this world for Leading Ladies who aren’t Katherine Heigls. Look out, World– I’m gonna take my awkward, clumsy, broke self and infuse it with a little Queen Latifah confidence. Maybe it’s finally time for us Quirky Best Friends to shed the potato sacks, and exchange them for silk off-the-shoulder dresses and tarty red lipsticks.
Photo credits: Queenlatifah.com