When it comes to the list of Black actresses who command a presence on-screen, actress, rapper, and overall megastar Queen Latifah is one of the first to come to mind. From her debut starring role as the beloved Khadijah on FOX’s Living Single in 1993 to her most recent lead part at The Equalizer in the CBS drama of the same name, the New Jersey native, who’s also a singer and producer, has had an impressive, career spanning the course of three decades.
In celebration of the Emmy-award winning actress’s 51st birthday, we take a look at some of her most iconic roles to date.
Cleo – ‘Set it Off’
This one goes without saying. You can’t think of Set It Off without thinking of Latifah’s notable character, Cleo. She was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film and set the tone for her ability to tackle even bigger starring roles moving forward.
Khadijah- ‘Living Single’
Starring as the charismatic journalist and editor that everyone wanted to be, Latifah’s character Khadijah made her a staple when it came to seeing successful Black women simply living in the 90s. The show ran for five seasons and remains a treasure to this day.
Charlene – ‘Bringing Down the House’
Starring as the hilarious troublemaker turned guiding light named Charlene, (alongside actor Steve Martin), Latifah simply stole the spotlight in the 2003 comedy and truly showed her range as a comedic actress.
Mama Morton – ‘Chicago’
Latifah’s role as “Mama” Morton in the 2002 musical film Chicago earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Gina – ‘Beauty Shop’
Gina was first introduced in the 2004 sequel Barbershop 2: Back in Business before Beauty Shop debuted in 2005. In Beauty Shop, Latifah plays a hairdresser making her way through the trials of being a successful business owner. Her role earned nominations for NAACP and BET awards.
Bessie Smith in ‘Bessie’
Queen Latifah’s portrayal of Blues singer Bessie Smith earned her Golden Globe and Emmy nominations and a year after the film’s debut, Bessie became HBO’s most watched original film of all time.
Francine – ‘Brown Sugar’
Her role as Sidney’s cousin Francine in the 2002 classic love story, was a welcomed addition to the already well-assembled cast. Brown Sugar was one of the most memorable romantic films centering around hip-hop.
Leslie – ‘Just Wright’
Just Wright is a rom-com favorite, which paired the actress alongside rapper Common, who falls for him after getting her dream job as a physical therapist. Latifah once again scored an NAACP Image Award nomination for the role in 2011.
Georgia – ‘Last Holiday’
In the romcom Last Holiday, Latifah plays Georgia, a saleswoman who is forced to change her life and decides to live freely after receiving an unfavorable health diagnosis. In the film, she also starred as the love interest of LL Cool J, which made for an instant classic.
“Motormouth” Maybelle – ‘Hairspray’
Latifah stole the screen in Hairspray as “Motormouth” Maybelle, a local Baltimore DJ who hosts “Negro Day” on The Corny Collins Show. The roles combined her acting abilities and undeniable musical talents. Doesn’t get any better than that!
Sasha – ‘Girls Trip’
Starring as Sasha in the 2017 blockbuster comedy (centered around none other than ESSENCEFest!), Latifah added another classic comedic role to her growing list with ease. The movie went on to be a massive success with a sequel reportedly in the works.