Anyone expecting Queen Latifah to come out of the closet on her new talk show might as well grab a flashlight and go look for her inside.
Despite her forthright demeanor, the empress of hip-hop, actress and media deity to this day refuses to answer questions about her sexuality, or confirm rumors she is a lesbian.
Even with her return to television and the social dynamics of gay culture shifting dramatically, she vetoes the idea of transparency, offering perhaps a bolder statement of her own on the purpose of identity.
“Your sexual orientation is a personal thing, and not necessarily a brand thing,” Kim Castle, a branding expert, TV host and columnist, tells theGrio. “When I think about brands, I think about what the company, product, or in this case, the celebrity stands for, and for her, it may not necessarily mean that she stands for being gay or not gay…Your sexual orientation is not necessarily part and parcel of everything the public gets to feed on.”
Make your own assumptions
In Latifah’s case, the public has been nibbling at the 43-year-old’s sexuality for years, and as she’s pointed out in the past, satiating their appetite serves little purpose.
From her perspective, the delineation makes no difference.
“I don’t have a problem discussing the topic of somebody being gay, but I do have a problem discussing my personal life,” Latifah told the New York Times in 2008. “We’re not discussing it in our meetings, we’re not discussing it at Cover Girl…I don’t care if people think I’m gay or not. Assume whatever you want. You do it anyway.”
In 2009, after divulging she’d been sexually abused as a child, she made similar remarks to Essence, commenting, “They want to make up stories and make me gay all the time and it’s like, ‘Keep running with it.’ I’ve definitely been annoyed by it, but I learned a long time ago that it was pointless to say anything. Everybody else can do the reading; I’ll do the living.”
Last year, some predicted the star would come out during her performance at a Long Beach Gay Pride event, but she cleared up those rumors too.
And in an interview this month with The Hollywood Reporter, Latifah was asked yet again to clarify her sexuality, and whether or not it will be addressed in her new show.
“I don’t feel the need to discuss my private life on this show, or any other show,” she said. “There’s the part of my life that the public and I share together. And there’s the part that’s mine to keep for myself. And that’s mine. For me.”
The role of sexuality in branding
Castle, who has worked with entrepreneurs along with Fortune 500 companies such as Disney, M&Ms, and Coca-Cola, says celebrities use sexuality for their own purpose, and there’s no reason to believe Latifah’s implicit attitude will affect her brand.
“When [Ellen DeGeneres] came out, she came out as part of pushing a boundary in a sitcom,” Castle remarks. “You look at somebody like Raven-Symone who just came out; she came out personally in relationship to the law changing…You look at the other end of the spectrum, at a Perez Hilton who used his gayness as a badge, as a plier to leverage him, to catapult him, almost the opposite. He used it as a way to establish his brand.”
“A brand needs to know what it’s about and if being gay is part of that, then by all means, use it powerfully,” she continues.
Like Castle mentions, others in Latifah’s shoes have opened up to take a stance.
DeGeneres’ revelation changed the face of television. Celebrities like Sara Gilbert, Wanda Sykes, and Rosie O’Donnell came out in an almost ‘so what’ type manner, dropping it at various appearances along their respective journeys.
More recently, Anderson Cooper confirmed he was gay after years of public speculation in a letter to writer Andrew Sullivan. He said his reasoning for breaking the silence was to support movements for LGBT equality, and to be a source of inspiration for those who suffer as a result of their identity.
The disclosure, nonetheless, had little to no impact on his program or public perception.
“That’s not what his brand is about, it’s not what his show’s about,” says Castle. “He came out because he needed to: to not deny who he was, and from a political standpoint, just like Raven-Symone.”
Queen Latifah: the brand
Castle describes Latifah’s brand as “outspoken,” “be who you are,” and “love who you are.”
If such is the case however, couldn’t withholding the truth about her sexuality affect her authenticity?
“Not discussing her sexuality on her talk show will not hurt her credibility because by this point, it’s a known fact that she keeps that part of her life out of the public eye,” Sakita Holley, president of House of Success PR, a lifestyle and branding agency, believes. “People who decide to tune into her show will do so because they are longtime fans or because they are looking for her unique perspective on topics that matter most to them.”
She adds, “Ultimately, being able to intelligently discuss a topic or give good advice is rooted in education and experience, not by how much you choose to reveal about yourself.”
On that note, Castle agrees, pointing out that Latifah had a talk show in the past and it never became an issue.
“It didn’t stop anyone before from loving her, it didn’t stop her from being outspoken,” she remarks. “In this day and age of authenticity – every one of us craving an authentic relationship – if she comes up to the line and she holds herself back in-authentically, that will hurt her. But I think her talking about being gay or not gay, that’s her decision, and I don’t think that has anything to do with her brand.”
Nothing else to prove
Plus, while Latifah won’t admit to being a lesbian, she doesn’t necessarily hide the truth from the world either.
In the past, she’s been photographed with her arms around women, or strolling alongside presumed female romantic partners.
As far as her new venture goes, The Queen Latifah Show premieres in September and aims to examine celebrities, politics and culture with an emphasis on issues of human interest.
Seamlessly, then, Latifah extends her brand built on frankness, empowerment, and distinctive vision.
By intentionally keeping sexuality out of that equation, she also suggests identity should not be predetermined, categorized or assessed based on such qualities.
“Queen Latifah is beloved by our culture because of the positive energy and sense of excellence she brings to her work,” Holley observes. “She is probably also regarded as mysterious due to the questions surrounding her personal life and because she just does the work and goes home. There isn’t this sense of, ‘I need to prove something’…People appreciate that.”
Follow Courtney Garcia on Twitter at @CourtGarcia