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15 Nov

Sanaa Lathan Reflects On ‘Brown Sugar’ For The Film’s

Sanaa Lathan Reflects On ‘Brown Sugar’ For The Film’s

Sanaa Lathan almost didn’t do Brown Sugar. It was the summer of 2000 and she or he was poised to perform in Recent York’s Shakespeare within the Park, a free, annual theatrical production. The play was a dream of hers and she or he wasn’t sure that Sugar, a cult classic that turns 20 today, had a robust enough script. The film industry was also revving up for a strike that will follow the longest Hollywood work stoppage on record. So Lathan selected Shakespeare’s ‘Measure for Measure and went on about her business.  

Things modified when Sugar’s script was cleaned up, the strike didn’t occur and production was pushed back. Lathan solemnly recalls filming within the months following 9/11. “I remember we were probably one in all two productions in town. You may still smell the ash,” she tells ESSENCE. There was a way of fear pulsing throughout town, but in addition a glimmer of hope. It helped that she was working with familiar faces. 

“It was Taye [Diggs], he was like family,” she says of her co-star, whom she had previously worked with on The Best Man. “Boris [Kodjoe] and Nicole Ari Parker, I had known just from being in Recent York, even before we began working as actors. Latifah, Mos Def. It was just such a tremendous group of individuals and we actually had that family sort of comradery.” 

Brown Sugar is the brainchild of author Michael Elliot and director Rick Famuyiwa. Elliot was a hip-hop biz whiz who later added Like Mike and Just Wright (which also starred more big names in rap) to his credits.

On the time of the film’s production, rap was grown, grown, baby. It was toasting to its late 20s, having army crawled its way from fad to pop dominance. Hip-hop, bless its heart, was latest money—cue the floor-length furs, hot sex and Cristal on ice. Sure, there have been conscious records and figures in a position to achieve major success, however the bling and booty were a baseline. (Rap sales would eventually slope downward by over 40 percent between 2000 and 2007.) There have been growing concerns that hip-hop was straying from its revolutionary, introspective nature. Sugar demonstrated this through the subplot of Diggs’ Dre Ellis signing a soulless minstrel show of an act and the major point of Lathan’s Sidney Shaw grappling with how the artform was losing its soul. 

Lathan remembers rap’s childhood. She talks about seeing Diddy (then Puffy) and late music executive Andre Harrell around as a teen. “I used to be really right there,” she says. “Not in it, but right there.” During our early morning call, she starts rapping Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s “The Show” and I can’t help but chime in and say, “We’re on.”

Sidney Shaw was one in all the primary Black girl magazine editors I saw in a movie. As XXL’s fictional editor-in-chief, she was plucky, had unreleased CDs spinning in her stereo and had a robust idea of what hip-hop may very well be at its best. She was also deeply in love together with her childhood best friend, but more on that later. To organize for the role, Lathan was introduced to Kierna Mayo, a media legend who helped shape her in her literary image. 

“I talked to her about what motivated her and the way it was for her as a young Black woman, trail blazing her own path in such a male dominated [field],” Lathan says. “It still is,” she says, eager about today’s entertainment landscape. 

The actress also clues me in on charming Shaw’s sense of fashion, which was grown-up b-girl meets white hot editor with a book deal. “There was a glance that I knew that I wanted her to have. I wanted her to be very specifically fashion and sort of hip-hop,” she says. “I’m sort of happy with myself looking back because I used to be so latest within the business, but I fought to have my stylist friend Daria Hines actually work with the costume designer because she really knew the culture.” 

“You only never know once you’re working on something that’s going to resonate. Especially as an actor, you simply don’t know.” 

Brown Sugar toggles between being a romance-driven story and a get up call for what hip-hop may very well be when it stood up straight. (Listen, I’m no purist, but a few of the early aughts’ material was questionable to say the least.) Sidney knows she loves her some Dre, but decides to take care of the sanctity of their friendship. Which means putting her feelings in a bottle and watching him get married to a lady whose eyes eventually begin to wander. The restaurant scene that reveals the infidelity has major replay value. 

“Taye has been revealed as such an incredible comedian on social media, but he was all the time that way,” Lathan says. “I believe that “celebrating my divorce,” definitely got here from his comedic mind. You actually felt him. You felt his pain after which it was funny. All humor comes from that true pain. I believe we improved that.”

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Lathan couldn’t have imagined the props Brown Sugar can be getting 20 years later. “I can’t consider it,” she says. “You only never know once you’re working on something that’s going to resonate. Especially as an actor, you simply don’t know. It’s so cool.” 

I’m not surprised the movie has turn out to be hip-hop fans’ major squeeze. It has slightly little bit of every little thing; a grounded love story, cameos by a few of the biggest rappers of all time and a “you’ll be able to have all of it” message that ends with a pleasant bow and includes some (padded) blows. It also centers a sweet metaphor for old love and hip-hop, too. Just once you roll your eyes and think it’s done for, it reminds you why you gave it a probability in the primary place.

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