Queen Latifah Says Gay Is the New Black

But that's just her character on Single Ladies speaking.

Courtesy of TVGuide.com

Queen Latifah, the Hollywood star born and bred in Newark, N.J., is a Renaissance woman. Brilliantly transformed from a young 1990s rapper and hip-hop artist into an Academy Award-nominated actress and iconic cosmetics CoverGirl, Latifah embodies full-figured beauty and style. Her confidence and strength are fundamental: From her lyrics and lyricism to her elegant, on-screen persona and self-assured attitude, Latifah comes across as a quintessential example of the strong black woman.

Though Latifah has had many incarnations -- from talk-show host and sitcom star to Billboard-chart-topping artist and Golden Globe winner -- she has now entered a new phase in her professional life as the executive producer of a prime-time cable sitcom, Single Ladies, starring Stacey Dash and LisaRaye McCoy.

The show, a Sex and the City concept with an African-American flair, has enjoyed relative success in its first season, scoring 1.8 million viewers for its opening episode -- a record for the VH1 network. Ladies will undoubtedly be renewed; it helps VH1 solidify its place in the coveted 18-45 demographic and provides Latifah with both a platform and a lucrative investment.

The show has collected mixed reviews. It's been compared to an upscale version of The Real Housewives of Atlanta (ouch!). Washington Post critic Hank Stuever questioned its incessant reliance on and celebration of the outdated concept of "bling" while elevating the superficial and banal with performance-art tactics. As he put it, "Queen Latifah ... once upon a time, seemed to know better."

But a second glance suggests that she does. In the latest episode, Latifah appears for the first time on-screen as television reporter Sharon Love. (The pun on the words "sharing love" is not lost on the viewer.) The plot thickens when Love admits to having slept with her best female friend in college (Dash's character, Val).

The admission is mistakenly taped, caught on camera and aired. In an effort to use the hiccup to her advantage in the media, she discovers that the press and the public are more interested in her as a personality because of -- not in spite of -- her being gay.

Contrary to her initial beliefs that the issue would be a death knell to her career, she finds even greater success. Love declares, "It turns out being gay is fabulous. My Twitter is all atwitter. I have six new Facebook fan pages. And for every sponsor that's fallen out, I've gotten two more. Who knew? Being gay is the new black."

For an ordinary actress, this statement would be just another scripted line. But Latifah has spent years dodging questions about her sexual orientation and personal life, questions that have remained muted up until now because of what appears to be a mix of respect for her personal life and the old Hollywood code of "Don't ask, don't tell."

Last year the Advocate, the nation's largest gay and lesbian magazine, reported that Queen Latifah and her personal trainer, Jeanette Jenkins, had purchased a home together in the Hollywood Hills, and public records revealed that both of their names were on the deed. Speculation followed that the two were officially an item. The previous year, paparazzi photos had been published of the women in an intimate embrace while on vacation.

Gay-rights activists and fans alike expected that Latifah would address the innuendo, but to their surprise she remained silent. In a 2007 interview with People magazine, she said, "My private life is my private life. Whomever I might be with, I don't feel the need to share it. I don't think I ever will." She told Essence magazine, "Everybody else can do the reading; I'll do the living."