Queen Latifah worked with producer Neil Meron on Chicago and director Adam Shankman on Bringing Down the House, so she says she thought it would be fun to join them on this new movie. For Neil, there was no other Maybelle. "She was the only choice," Neil says. "The only choice."
Despite all the upbeat energy of Hairspray, Latifah says she kept in mind its underlying theme of racial segregation—especially during a scene in which Maybelle participates in a protest march. "As fun as it was … you look around and you're like, 'Wow, the black people are separated from the white people,'" Latifah says. "And if this was really this time, we would be in a combative situation and we really would be fighting to change things. But the truth is, we really went through that. So underneath, in my mind, it was always there. I wouldn't allow it to be a total comedy in my own head."