SANAA LATHAN, Black America’s sweetheart

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Through love, heartbreak and longing (all on screen of course) we’ve been with Sanaa all the way. We caught up with the undisputed darling of black cinema to talk relationships, revisiting the past, and ‘the power of femininity’. By Gloria Ogunbambo

Who doesn’t love Sanaa Lathan? Like the sister you grew up with, she’s been there through all the changing scenes of our lives. The complicated ‘should we or shouldn’t we’ dilemma every girl faces with her best male friend? Sanaa went through that in Love & Basketball. Watching the man who gets you more than anyone else on the planet, ride off into the sunset with a woman that isn’t you? Yep, watch Brown Sugar. Wondering what on earth it will take for him to settle down and commit? In The Best Man, Sanaa learned all about that… and that’s every bit of the reason I’m speaking with her now.

Graceful, effervescent and unafraid to get a little potty-mouthed when the situation calls for it, Sanaa Lathan is the everywoman: that perfect mix of smart, sassy and sympathetic. We’re discussing her latest project, The Best Man Holiday, sequel to Malcolm D. Lee’s 1999 classic, The Best Man. Bearing in mind that sequels often fail to live up to their predecessors, it must have been some script that made her reprise her role as Harper’s put-upon girlfriend, Robin. “I thought it was a ridiculous idea! What for? Then Malcolm got the whole cast together for dinner at this beautiful place called Boa Steakhouse and by the end, I was like, “You need to write this!” Do you know the odds of nine actors still all being alive and healthy, never mind getting back together? It’s kind of amazing!”

Silly as it sounds, it’s oddly comforting to think of the cast of The Best Man taking it in turns to host yearly reunions; reliving shared memories and generally being best mates. Luckily Sanaa keeps the dream alive. “It totally didn’t feel like work. They should have made a movie out of what happened behind the scenes! Taye is always dancing, Nia’s the momma bear; Terrence is the eccentric artiste, Morris listens but never shares, Regina – you can always hear her voice! Melissa has a really dry wit and Harold’s laugh is infectious. In this film I’m nine months pregnant, and on set everyone was punching and poking my belly.” After telling me about everyone else, I wonder what role Sanaa plays in her friendship groups. “I’m a connector. I love being around lots of people so I’m the person constantly bringing people together.”

Anyone who loves the film will know just how on the money it was about love and friendship, particularly where both sexes are involved. “With black films, especially in the last 10 years, there aren’t always those subtleties. Life isn’t always so broad; there are levels to this sh*t!” The highly anticipated sequel, The Best Man Holiday, picks up 15 years after the first and from the looks of things, Harper (Diggs) and Sanaa’s character Robin, are not only still together, but expecting a baby, which is a surprise considering that she’d all but sung, “I Will Survive’ to him when we saw them last. “I love the fact that Robin, like me, is a bit of a hippy but she’s mature and she loves her man. That’s what I identify with. She loves Harper and she fought for him.” Does she feel that today’s modern, empowered woman has lost sight of that particular impulse? “I don’t think so. I’ve been there and I know friends who have been there. There are certain relationships where you don’t stand by him because he’s just not worth standing by!”

While the 42-year-old’s name isn’t one we’d typically expect to be used as tabloid fodder, that’s not to say she hasn’t been involved in her fair share of relationship drama – true or otherwise. Earlier this year, there were rumours of her being Denzel Washington’s long-time mistress, and back when Vanessa Bryant was hell bent on taking half of Kobe’s $220 million fortune, Sanaa’s name was thrown into the fray. Her response to that particular piece of gossip was everything. “Anybody who pays attention knows I’m not his type…Blank stare. #blackgirlsrock #dontbelievethelies.” Lathan, will confirm she is indeed “happily dating” but won’t say who. (“I’m at the time in my life where I’m dating more than one person because I know it takes a long time to get to know somebody.”) Recent media reports however, have linked her to a younger man, 25-year-old San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick – though you’d be hard pressed to tell with her youthful looks, which she attributes to “good genes”, “a positive attitude”, “organic shea butter and raw coconut oil” and, the fact that “black don’t crack, baby!”

With all the romcoms under her belt, by now I’m sure Sanaa’s up there with the best of them when it comes to relationship expertise. “I definitely see clearer now, but as I get older, I’m definitely being more open. One thing I know for sure is, when people show you who they are, trust that.” Considering the balls of steel mentality that being an actress in Hollywood, let alone a black one, requires, I wonder what effect that has on her relationships. “I don’t know that traditional roles [in relationships] work. By nature of what I do for a living, that’s not going to work. In my career I have to be very masculine: get up and go, talk to agents, go after jobs – it’s a masculine energy. Personally, I like masculine men, so I have to take that hat off. I do believe in the power of femininity, but that doesn’t mean being weak or passive. It’s allowing the man to be the leader…even when you think you may know better!”

The Best Man Holiday is out now on Dvd and Blu-Ray

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