CREATIVE GENIUS: Sanaa Lathan – Moderator Taylor Rooks

Taylor: That scene was amazing. It was powerful, inspiring, emotional… When you look back at those things, how long did it buster up you the courage to cut it all off?

Sanaa: I think I had hair fatigue. I was tired. It was many, many years of every girl trying to figure out what I’m going to do of weaves, relaxers, hot combs and all of that. I think I was just over it. For the past two years before I shot Nappily, I was just literally wearing a baseball cap all the time. I was just tired of doing my hair. So I think it just came at the right time. 

Taylor: But that movie, a lot of it was okay. We’re always told how to be beautiful. A lot of times, it’s based on the people that looks nothing like us. So what are the ways you have been conditioned by the American standards of beauty and have you overcome those?

Sanaa: Just as I was saying that the images that  we are constantly seeing. It’s always on billboards of people that don’t look like you. You always see them in commercials, movies, magazines. What does that do to your self-esteem? And that is why I am excited about this past couple of years someone told me about Rihanna’s fashion show. It was so inclusive of  everybody. How amazing is that for little kids who are so diverse and are able to be, “Oh look, I can be like that because that looks like me.”

Taylor: What sparks that everybody matters and wanting to feel that they matter?

Sanaa: We have economic power. They need us. They need our dollars. We’re tired. We been tired. There are so many creatives and creators who are putting out content now and we are going to put out our stories on ourselves and our culture. Things like CultureCon is what propels everything forward.

Taylor: I want to go back to the movie for just a minute. I know cutting your hair is super liberating thing in the movie, but in real life, when have you felt most liberated?

Sanaa: Larry Sims, who is a fabulous hair stylist, I got him to do “Nappily Ever After”. We all knew that  I was going to shave off my hair and I had a lot of hair. Everybody was like “You know we are in the twenty first century. You can do a bald cap. You don’t have to really shave it.” And I was like, “No. I really want to go on this woman journey and I really want to dig in. It will add that as much importance to the message if I really do it.” We had to do it at one take and I asked Larry, “How is my shape of my head? Would I have a conehead?” And he said “Oh baby, you have a beautiful head.” We get to the scene and people was crying on set. It was crazy. Because I said to myself when I’m bald, I can wear wigs. I swear for two years, I did not wear a wig. I loved it so much. It was so freeing. I felt like ten pounds has been lifted off my shoulders Every boyfriend I ever had called me and asked can they come rub it. I was very surprised how guys loved it. And I did “The Affair” after I shot Nappily. I had a long wig and I knew I had to wear it for the character. She basically can have any kind of hair. In set there was a bunch of guys and I asked them, “What do you guys think would look better for her?” and they said they like her bald. Every day I think about shaving it again.

Taylor: Really?

Sanaa: It’s more work to have short hair. 

Taylor: There is a lot of patience. And I don’t have a lot of patience.

Sanaa: There are thousand tutorials of them. But I can’t.

Taylor: What do you think hair really represent for the black culture? Because that’s why I think so many is connected to that scene.

Sanaa: Hair was  like how basketball was for “Love of Basketball”.  “Love of Basketball” was a love story set in the world of basketball. “Nappily Ever After” is another love story set  with the theme of hair. This love story was about falling in love with yourself. Tat is the best love story there is. It was my love letter to black women. Netflix was just blown away how it connected all around the world and cultures because everyone understands that kind of  expectation to fit in a box. Whether that be coming from culture, parents, ourselves, and great is it to get yourself out of the box and be who you really are.

Taylor: You talked about that being a self love story. How did you fall in love with yourself?

Sanaa: Every single day. Lots of therapy. Therapy is good y’all.  We work on our bodies. We work on, you know, our physical life. There is nothing wrong with working on our mental. This world is too hard to not get some kind of support. Especially with us. We are so strong. A lot of times we be like, “Oh I got this.” But you know life and social media, phones, what’s going on in the news. It’s too much to bare sometimes. Sometimes you need that support. For me one of the things she talked about self love being is boundaries. With us, people of color, we feel we have to give so much. Especially black women. We have to give some much even to our families and friends. We have a historical thing since slavery to hold everybody down. But you have to hold yourself down first. And sometimes that looks a little selfish. But that is what self love is. You have to take care of yourself. You can’t really help other people if you are not taking care of yourself.

Taylor: That was beautiful. We’re about to cry. Mess up my makeup.

Sanaa: Im working on it myself. But I have to share. Self love is also how you talk to yourself. We have control over these thoughts. These thoughts don’t control our lives. They are conditioned. You literally have to power to say, “Stop” as if you are talking to somebody else. You can fake it until you make it. I’m a big  believer in affirmations. “I am”. It’s not corny. It really works. There are proven science on affirmations. It’s a daily moment to moment practice. Sometimes I forget and wonder why I feel depressed. We are more in control of that than what we were taught to believe.

Taylor: I know you are  a big advocate on self love. But unfortunately it seems like  even when it’s about ourselves, there is a weird obsession when black women marry, why they aren’t in love, when are they going to to be in love no matter how successful you are or happy your are.

Sanaa: That’s not just a black women thing. It’s a whole world of women. And it comes from a not so subtle impression of women. When you read all these fairytales – Snow White, Cinderella – they are chosen by a man. That’s when you win. That’s not the truth. I going to choose me, first. You see how many relationships aren’t working. The divorce rate is over 50%. I do believe in love. Right now I’m working on loving myself. The truth is when you start loving yourself, you attract a better quality of a situation.

Taylor: What does real love look like to you? Is it similar to that self love?

Sanaa: I think so. It’s about lifting each other up. It’s about  being able to communicate. Love can be so complicated of what people think love is. I want someone to lift me up. Who wants me to shine. Who is not scared of that. Who can be there after the day is over. 

Taylor: We all want that girl. Put it out there. You say something really interesting. You said, “There is a unique abuse being in Hollywood as a black actor, let alone a black actress.” Can you elaborate about the abuse? What it feels like, look like?

Sanaa: I would take back the word “abuse” because I’m so grateful for what I get to do… I am my instrument. When you go in and being judged over this and talent. Especially in the beginning just being rejected over and over again. And you really have to develop a thick skin. You can’t be too catalyst because then you won’t be able to act. Keep that  sensitive part open in order to access these characters but yet you have to have an armor. It is changing since I grew up. There is so much more with streaming and we are seeing more people of color. I was telling people who wanted to be actors, “If you can do anything else, do it” because the amount of criticism and rejection.

Taylor: If you and I swap lives, what would I have to know about you to be able to  get through the day?

Sanaa: I would say you have to have a willpower because I’m trying to stop sugar. 

Taylor: How would you like to be remembered?

Sanaa: I just want to make work that touches people. I want people to look at my work and feel something. That question is great. But when you’re dead, you don’t care what people think. One of the things I really trying to focus on now is we’re just a goal driven society, “When I get here…”. “When I get the money…”. But it’s really about right now. There is no next moment. Its now. I learned about anxiety and fear emotions come from worrying about the future and worrying about the past. I’m working every interaction with every person.

Taylor: There are a lot of creators in this room. If you had advice for creators to make meaningful things that matter, what will that advice be?

Sanaa: I would say start building it like today. If  you are a writer, write something today. If you are an actor, get  in dance class, acting class, theatre. Start doing it. Make the discipline of doing it every day. If you can’t do it every day, do something that you want to achieve every day.  I believe the universe will meet you. The universe sees that and would send you opportunities. Do your craft. Do whatever it is you dreamed about.

Taylor: Last question. So far to this point, what do know to intrude about life?

Sanaa: Just what I just said about the whole thing about being present. Time flies. Do you know how fast this year has gone? Have your dream and go after them fiercely and remember life is now. That’s the lesson I’m trying to learn day by day.

Taylor: Well Sanaa, you have been such an inspiration. We watched you most of our lives. We love you. You are everyone I thought you would be and more!

Sanaa: Thank you. Thank you guys so much!