Queen Latifah has played a bevvy of powerful roles over her career. From real figures like Bessie Smith to critically-acclaimed work as Ana in films like Life Support and Matron Mama Morton in Chicago, she’s transformed in many ways, many times. But if she had to pick a role that was the hardest for her to say “yes” to, Latifah would say it was Cleo in Set It Off. Despite playing the hell out of the overconfident bank robber with the mean cornrows, Latifah said deciding to play Sims was something she was nervous about — more for her family members than for herself.
In an interview with Black-ish star Tracee Ellis Ross for InStyle, she shared how she came to her younger siblings with her decision to star as the controversial character:
“When I got the role of amateur bank robber Cleo Sims in Set It Off, I sat down with my younger siblings and told them, ‘Listen, I’m playing a gay character,’” Latifah said. “‘Your classmates might tease you or say negative things about it. But I’m doing it because I believe I can bring positive attention to the gay African-American community, and I believe that I can do a great job as an actor.’ They understood, and when those things inevitably happened in school, they were OK with it.”
Interesting fact pertaining to the film: Jada Pinkett Smith said she originally competed for the role of Cleo, but producers felt that she would be better suited for Stoney. Oh, and Brandy, yes, little Ms. Moesha, was offered the opportunity to play T.T. However, she passed on it, with the role inevitably going to Kimberly Elise. The more you know…