Sanaa Lathan
Photo: Jim Wright
Actress Sanaa Lathan took on the romantic lead in the film Something New—about an African-American businesswoman who falls for a white landscaper—because she knew the story would resonate. "She's dealing with her own racism and prejudices, things she doesn't realize are in her until she starts having feelings for this guy, " says Lathan. "That's very real for many black women. There's a guilt involved with dating white men, the sense that you're abandoning your brothers." The 34-year-old Yale drama school grad landed her first starring role as a college hoops star in 2000's Love and Basketball, which established her as a formidable screen presence and a feminist icon for the Girls Gone Wild generation. After memorable stints as a razor-sharp magazine editor in the romantic comedy Brown Sugar and a conniving adulteress opposite Denzel Washington in Out of Time, she was nominated for a Tony for her portrayal of Beneatha Younger in the 2004 Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun. Next up for Lathan is a slice-of-life indie about a woman whose husband is incarcerated, which she'll star in and produce. "Sometimes we live in our boxes of how we see ourselves," she says of the twist in her career. "But if you expand that, and you're open to new experiences and new situations, you find things that are more fulfilling." With that in mind, Lathan hopes that Something New will appeal to a diverse audience. "At the bottom of it, the message isn't 'Date outside your race,'" she says. "It's 'Open your mind and your heart.'"