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Queen Latifah Buzzes About 'Secret Life Of Bees'

Queen Latifah arrives at the premiere of <em>The Secret Life of Bees</em> at the Toronto International Film Festival last month.
Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images
Getty Images
Queen Latifah arrives at the premiere of The Secret Life of Bees at the Toronto International Film Festival last month.

Sue Monk Kidd's best-selling novel The Secret Life of Bees is now creating buzz on the big screen.

Three of its stars — Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys — also have stand-out musical careers. Although this movie is not actually a musical, the three, along with actresses Sophie Okonedo and Dakota Fanning, manage a very different kind of harmony.

"We just clicked immediately. I felt like I was their older sister," Latifah tells Michele Norris. "I'm the oldest; I've been doing this a while — kind of be the example, be a leader, be supportive."

The Secret Life of Bees is the story of a 14-year-old white girl, Lily Owen, who runs away from her abusive father in 1960s South Carolina. She winds up in the home and care of the three Boatwright sisters, all named for months of the year: May, June and August.

Latifah plays August Boatwright, the eldest sister and the matriarch of the home, who runs a honey-making business called Black Madonna Honey.

Latifah says August reminds her of her mom, grandmother — and herself.

"I just always connected with August because this character is so nurturing and loving and confident and comfortable in her own skin that she just seems at peace," Latifah says.

On the set, Latifah was anything but at peace when she was around swarming bees. They made her nervous, she says, because she was afraid of getting stung.

"Actually, I'm fascinated by bees. Bees are going through a little something; they're struggling with this collapsed hive syndrome thing that's been going on," Latifah says. "I just had to work with the beekeeper and learn more about them and be as calm as I could."

Latifah says it was easy for her to take on the 1960s Southern — and racist — mindset. She says she experiences racism in New York City.

"I don't have to really be in the '60s to connect to it," she says. "Every time I try to hail a cab in New York, and they pass me and pick up the white person [who's] farther back than I am, then I get a dose of it. Or when they don't want to take you to Harlem or Brooklyn. I grew up with that."

Latifah also says her mother had difficulty getting a home loan to buy a first house.

"It only takes one experience to connect to that pain," she says. "It's painful, and it's frustrating. 'Cause at the end of the day, the only person you can truly change is yourself. So, you do that, you try to affect the people around you and do what you can, do your part to make a difference."

But Latifah says she wanted to make this movie because it was different from the films that show "the angry side of racism, the bigotry, the violent side of it."

"There's a different side, as well. There's a very hospitable side," she says. "It was just kind of nice ... to see these people who owned their property, they own their business, they're respected in the community. There are white people here who are straight-up racist, and there are white people here who want to see all this change."

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