“You would never expect a black woman to be the hero”, words spoken by the gorgeous, beautifully talented, award-winning actress known as Sanaa Lathan who continues to heat up screens and stages across the planet. However, for many of us, Sanaa has consistently been our hero championing issues no only related to the black women but women in general, often portraying characters of inspiration and aspiration. Her natural beauty, and intelligence are a force of nature, which has shaken up the film industry.
Sanaa McCoy Lathan was born on September 17, 1971 in New York City. Both of her parents are apart of the entertainment business. Her father, Stan Lathan is a television show producer, writer, and director for shows such as Sanford & Sons, Def Comedy Jam, and The Real Husbands of Hollywood. Her mother, Elanor McCoy, is an actress and a dancer who performed on broadway with Eartha Kitt and traveled with Alvin Ailey. As Sanaa puts it, “I grew up in the business.”
At the age of 6, her parents got a divorced. This resulted in Sanaa being shuttled between Los Angeles and New York to spend time with each of them. During her high school years, she resided with her mother and attended New York’s Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics. Her college education was at the University of California, Berkeley where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English. She went further to obtain a master’s degree in drama from Yale University. She gained a love for the stage and the drama greats, like William Shakespeare, by performing in school productions such as “Othello”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “The Winter’s Tale” and “Twelfth Night”.
She began her early career performing in off-Broadway productions, such as “Por’ Knockers” and “A Movie Star Has to Be Born in Black and White”. She eventually moved to Los Angeles, performed on the LA stage for a while before earning herself TV roles in Family Matters (1989), NYPD Blue(1993), In the House (1995) and Moesha (1996).
Sanaa recorded her movie debut on the action film Drive (1997) followed by scintillating performances in Blade (1998), The Wood (1999) and The Best Man (1999). In 2001, Lathan received an NAACP Image Award and a BET Award for her role in the romantic drama Love & Basketball (2000).
Even after achieving so much success on-screen, Sanaa remained loyal to the theatre which has equally earned her much critical acclaim. The talented actress received a Tony Award nomination in 2003 for her performance in the Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun. She equally reprised her role alongside Sean Diddy Combs in the 2008 made-for-television production of the play.
In 2004, the actress played the lead role in Alien vs. Predator followed by other notable roles in Something New (2006), The Best Man Holiday (2013) among several others. The multi-talented actress also lent her voice to the role of Donna Tubbs in the animated sitcom The Cleveland Show (2009-2013). She received the 2016 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture for her role in The Perfect Guy.
In her most recent film role, “Nappily Ever After,” Sanaa stars as a high powered marketing executive who is obsessed with perfection, from the soles of her feet to the crown of her head (literally). However when her character, Violet Jones, is faced with a grave upset from her long term boyfriend it leaves her devasted and disappointment, which results in her shaving off all of her hair. With “no fair” and vanity to no longer distract her, she now sets out on a journey to embrace her true self. The story outlines the everyday challenges of black woman embracing their natural hair and beauty. This movie is certainly a win for black culture and we give major Kudos to the lovely actress.
The Tony nominated actress Sanaa Lathan lives up to her name, which means “artistry” in Swahili and “shining light” in Arabic. With limited-yet-growing roles or opportunities for African-Americans, and women in film, Sanaa continues to break barriers and forge her way into film history at an unprecedented and uninhibited style. Loved, admired and supported by fans across the diaspora, in addition to possessing that natural beauty, intelligence and gifted talent, Sanaa has demonstrated the potential to sail above the ranks of other prominent stars.
“Some of us just have to work harder to stay in the game.”
“You would never expect a black woman to be the hero”
“Sometimes when you don’t care, people are attracted to that.”
“I grew up in the business. My dad is a director/producer and my mom is a dancer, she performed with Alvin Ailey, but I didn’t even think about becoming an actress.”
“I have dated all races, and I believe you should be free to do whatever you want.”
“Good storytelling appeals to me – good writing.”
“I’ve never gotten any complaints about my headscarf from a man. You can be sexy with a head wrap!”
Recreated Photograph: Photos by KBS
Recreate Model: Jasmine Y. Williams