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Queen Latifah Celebrates Emmy Diversity: ‘It Should Have Been There a Long Time Ago’

”Bessie“ star tells TheWrap she identified with Bessie Smith: ”I know what it’s like to be at the top and be lonely and broken and hurt“

Queen Latifah has been a rapper, an actress and a talk-show host — and now she’s a two-time Emmy nominee, with a nomination for playing the title role in HBO’s “Bessie” coming this year to join the one she received in 2007 for the same network’s “Life Support.”

Hers was one of 12 nominations for “Bessie,” the story of the tortured but iconic blues singer Bessie Smith.

We spoke to the rapper-turned-actress, who was last nominated in 2007 for the TV movie “Life Support.”

TheWrap: Congratulations. How are you going to celebrate?
I’m just getting back from Europe, so this is my first day home. I’m at my mom’s house, just hanging out with my family. We’re having a barbecue today that I didn’t know about, so I’ll be surrounded by kids who do not know what an Emmy is. They know what a pool is, and what hot dogs and hamburgers are. So I’ll be the cousin today, and the daughter.

But yeah, I’ll be celebrating.

Most viewers don’t necessarily know what Bessie Smith looked and sounded like, but I’m sure you put a lot of pressure on yourself to get it right.
I tell you, that was the main thing to me — to try to do the best job I could with the limited amount of information that was available. She lived so long ago there’s not a lot visually that I could draw from to study her, but I did feel there were a whole bunch of parallels between us. I could understand the life she lived, and some of he things she’d gone through.

It was really about being brave enough to go for it. She was a really powerful woman, fearless in a lot of ways and vulnerable in a lot of ways. And really, it came down to the music for me. I could listen to the songs, and through the sound of her voice I could tell when she was in a good space and maybe when she’d had a long night.

You said there were parallels between you and Bessie. What kind of parallels?
I know what it’s like to be a young person who has talent and ability and not the best financial circumstances. But you want to make it. My partner and I were 18 and 20 trying to get record deals and make it, and I know the drive and determination and sacrifice that requires.

And I know what it’s like to be at the top of your game and to be successful but lonely and broken and hurt. I definitely know what it’s like to pull yourself out of a bottle. I know what it means to sing a song and fall into that music and escape the world.

As you look at the nominations, are there any snubs that stand out, any people or shows you wish were nominated?
Honestly, I haven’t gotten to see all of them. This is all happening so fast, I haven’t even had my morning coffee yet. If I can get to Starbucks, everything is going to be OK.

I am very excited abut Titus Burgess [from “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”]. I’m happy to see Taraji [P. Henson] in there, I know how long and hard she’s worked. I like to see the diversity that’s finally happening. It should have been there a long time ago.

After you started your career as a rapper, is there now a little bit of “I told you so” as you think of the people who might have tried to discourage you from getting into acting?
Of course. People discouraged me all along the way. First of all, I’m a young girl, I’m African-American, I’m starting out with this music form. Is it real, is it a trend?

In hip-hop, we had to prove ourselves in the very beginning — this is not a trend, it’s not going anywhere. For me and my career, it’s always been a struggle to show people a different version of me. To not follow the crowd.

Clearly, I’m not white, I’m not a size 2. I had to use my gifts and my talent to the best of my ability to show people a different way.

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