Actress Sanaa Lathan savors her selectivity



SANAA LATHAN DOESN'T MAKE MANY MOVIES, -- only five since 2000, and one of them just used her voice -- and that's OK by her. Not only does the 34-year-old Yale-trained New York native not feel pressured to be onscreen all the time -- she'd rather choose her projects carefully, opting for quality over quantity -- but such selectivity gives her the chance to return to her first love, the stage. In 2004, she starred opposite Sean Combs in a revival of A Raisin in the Sun, and was nominated for a Tony.

But it's through her movies -- especially Love & Basketball, opposite Omar Epps, and Brown Sugar, opposite Taye Diggs -- that audiences know her best. She's currently starring in Something New as Kenya McQueen, an uptight, career-centric financial adviser who seems to have found the mate she's been looking for, but can't work past the fact that he's white.

The movie has resulted in some of the best reviews of her career. Before its release, Lathan visited Washington to promote the movie. We spoke with her over the phone when she was in Atlanta.

Have you ever dated interracially?

Yes, I have. And there were times when there was a black event, and I had anxiety about taking him. You get pressure from people [and] you put pressure on yourself. There is this kind of guilt, just naturally, being a black person in this country. I think it's silly, but it's that kind of thing -- 'Oh, you're abandoning your people.'

And there are people who are not afraid to tell you that, too.

Not at all; they let you know. Several times, I was given looks by black men. It's the same thing on the other side. It's subtle, but it's still there.

This movie fits in very well with what has become a new movement among black filmmakers -- to try to do films that go beyond the standard Hollywood stereotypes.

Absolutely, and why not? It's tired. Who wants to see the same old thing over and over again? If aliens came to this country and saw our movies, they wouldn't know there are people of color.

We have a vast array of experiences. One of the other things I love about this movie is showing an upper-middle-class black family; it shows the whole tradition of cotillions. That's something that I never experienced in my own life, but that is something that a large part of the black population goes through. And this is the first time it's being really represented onscreen.

I feel it's important for young black people, young people of color, to see themselves in the art of the culture. It validates you on some level.

You've acted on stage, on TV and in the movies. Do you prefer one medium over the other?

I love theater, I love the experience of being onstage and getting to live out the arc of the character every night, having the audience right there. With all the energy, there's an actual exchange. You feel high when you get off the stage.


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