In the film Last Holiday, Queen Latifah plays Georgia Byrd, an unassuming, churchgoing woman who sells cookware in a department store. She never misses choir practice and has a secret crush on a timid coworker played by LL Cool J.
After hitting her head at work, she is given a report from a doctor that she only has three weeks to live. Georgia cashes in her retirement fund and some money her mom left her and decides to fulfill a few lifelong dreams.
During an interview session at the junket for the film, Queen Latifah said that she was drawn to the role because this “shy, meek person goes from thinking she has three weeks left to live and decides … to explore life and enjoy some of the things that she’s been holding herself back from for so long.”
More and more films are dealing with faith as an element of life. For example, Georgia is portrayed as churchgoing, Bible-reading, choir-singing member of a Baptist church in New Orleans. Despite the fact that Last Holiday is not a religious film, the inclusion of Georgia’s spiritual state of mind is unmistakable.
“I had to keep it on the course of my Christian background because Georgia is a Christian and I had to make sure that certain things were done right along the way,” Queen Latifah said.
One highly charged scene takes place during a church service when Georgia starts asking God why all this is happening to her. “Honestly, that was the real thing goin’ on in that church that day,” reports Latifah. “I mean, that was one of the most amazing days. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a day like that on the set where the energy – even for those who weren’t Christians necessarily, or church-goers, or hadn’t been around any kind of religious things, felt that energy. I mean it was there. The choir’s a real choir. They’re not just some group of people they threw together to sing these songs… Yeah, they’re rockin’ that church, boy.”
Queen Latifah, born Dana Owens, attended Catholic school in New Jersey from third to ninth grade. While visiting family in Maryland, she attended Community Baptist Church. “We had to go to Sunday school and Vacation Bible School whenever we’d come down there to my grandmother’s for the summer, we had two weeks of Vacation Bible School,” she said.
Her aunt was the choir director of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Virginia. “And they just had amazing mass choir. And their preaching used to get down,” she recalled. “And my brother would kind of emulate the pastor all the time. Well, we literally would learn how he preached. We’d listen to some of the tapes.”
It was the songs of the choir, however, that made the biggest impression on her life. “The music was in my head. It was almost like I was being ministered to through the music. Like the notes and the harmonies, the way they’d break it down, the solos, everything connected with my spirit. And I think that was what really touched me the most and made me really get into it and kind of listen to it.”
She credits both her Catholic education and her Baptist church experience for her spiritual foundation. “In Catholic schools they kind of make you feel like Jesus is your brother and the same thing in Vacation Bible School. It’s like, you have this big brother, and his name is Jesus. And he’s always there and he’s always listening. And so I would literally walk around talkin’ to God as a little kid. Like, ‘Jesus, I don’t like what the teacher did today.’ But I’ve always had that relationship where we kinda converse as friends in a way, even though this is my Savior. This is like, someone who I know.”
In the midst of the up and downs of an entertainment career, Queen Latifah has always anticipated divine guidance. “There’s times in this business where I’ve literally said, ‘You didn’t bring me this far to leave me. You wouldn’t give me all of this stuff, and then over this one little thing, take it all away. And if you did, then you must have some other plan for me.’ You know what I mean? Whenever it seemed like he took something away, there was this amazing thing up the road, where I was like, ‘Hmmm, that’s why you did that, huh! You’re just clearing the way out a little bit.’ So I’ve just kind of always trusted God.”
When asked about the future of faith-based entertainment, Queen Latifah said that Hollywood responds to what the market requests. “This is still a business world for the studios. They have to make money. If it all starts making money, it just makes sense. They’re going to continue to do it. If there’s a demand, there will be a supply. I’m not going to say that it’s always going to be perfect.”
Queen Latifah’s successful career as a rapper, actor, and producer has afforded her the opportunity to see many parts of the world. “I’m like an explorer in my mind. I’ve always had this kind of Jacques Cousteau thing goin’ on. I get a lot of pleasure from nature, not just material things. I can look at a sunset and feel just as happy as watching one of my favorite movies or driving some really fun car. I really enjoy living on that edge. Riding a motorcycle at 100 miles an hour makes me feel incredible. It’s me and God and that road. I’m in his hands at that point. Anyone who rides a motorcycle knows what I’m saying, or anybody who’s kind of just allowed them to be alone with their own thoughts and their own emotions and spirit, those are the kinds of things that ignite me and awaken me.”
Steve Beard is the creator of Thunderstruck.