This year, Queen Latifah, the multi-faceted Grammy and Emmy Award-winning entertainer, is the face and partner for Lenovo’s Evolve Small initiative. Designed to promote and support small businesses, the program provides financial aid, technological resources and business mentorship to select small businesses.
“Being able to move the needle forward for small businesses [is what] it’s about; who needs the help more right now than a small business? These are challenging times in our history — unseen ever before in my lifetime — but I’ve watched us thrive despite these challenges,” Latifah tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s really about just trying to look for that business that really means it, you know? They really believe in what they’re doing. They’re committed to what [they’re] trying to do.”
The initiative, which launched last summer and is done in partnership with Microsoft and AMD, asks applicants to make brief pitch videos promoting their businesses, which can be brand new or already established. The selected North American businesses will get a cash infusion of $30,000, plus $10,000 worth of technology and one-on-one mentorship from Latifah (and the opportunity to incorporate the actress, recording artist and producer into their marketing materials).
“They can ask anything they want. Whatever it is they may need from me, I’ll be there for that,” the Oscar-nominated star says. “There’s some really cool, creative people out there with businesses that no one knows about, and if my face can help bring attention to [them], then I would love to help your business go through the roof.”
On CBS’ The Equalizer, now in its third season and picked up for a fourth, Latifah plays Robyn McCall, a justice-oriented advocate for people in need. These values seem true to Latifah’s character in real life, too; this partnership with Lenovo — and her longtime work with another global brand, CoverGirl — is an example of how ambassadorship and support are a running thread for the actress, both on and off the screen.
“I think that these things are not mutually exclusive. And they carry a thread in me, for sure,” Latifah says. “The idea of doing the show was like, we need to see the little guy win sometimes, that good people still exist, and that even in the midst of the worst things, we can still come together. There has to be some optimism. Obviously, Lenovo is a giant, global tech company. They’re known around the world and they make PCs. And oddly enough, as I was considering this deal, I loved what the concept was. But I walked into my cleaners, and they were using Lenovo PCs. It was a little bit of a confirmation for me — they really are helping these small businesses.”
The Equalizer, which launched its third run on Oct. 2 with the most-watched premiere this season on any network with 7.09 million viewers, hit a rough patch in December of last year, when Latifah’s co-star Chris Noth was removed from the series days after sexual assault claims against him first surfaced. Latifah acknowledges this, saying the show had its challenges in the wake of that shift, but “we figured things out.”
“That’s just how it is sometimes in our business, and all the best to everybody, but we’ve got to keep this thing moving forward and on its trajectory,” she says.
That trajectory will show this season as being “more of a family affair this year … more involved than they’ve ever been,” Latifah says, adding: “And the show is definitely going to be more action-packed this year. And that’s only because my grandmother sits in front of the television and watches this show and says, ‘I just love that action.’ Whereas some of my homeboys are like, ‘I just love your relationship with your daughter.’ I think it’s so wonderful that there’s a little something for everyone. There’s lots of heart, there’s lots of tension, and of course, lots of action, and maybe a little heat.”
When Lenovo’s small business participants run customized advertisements featuring Latifah, she’ll be no stranger to the process. When her partnership with CoverGirl was first announced in 2001 and she appeared in commercials and magazine print ads for the makeup giant, it was an early example of the inclusion and representation conversation that seems omnipresent today.
“CoverGirl was a major, major deal at the time … and the other thing that was very important was creating the Queen Collection line for women of color,” Latifah shares. For over 15 years, the entertainer was the face of several of the brand’s product launches, most notably her own Queen Collection line, which was specifically formulated to embrace and produce a wider range of complexions, colors and shades. Now, 21 years later, Latifah has signed on to be a part of the CoverGirl family again, and says that it’ll have “a new vibe … more modern and more tech. It’ll still be beautiful, still be easy breezy, but it will be for today.”
“I’m looking at all the other brands that are out now, all the success and billion dollar businesses, and in my heart a little part of me feels like, you know, I was part of that,” Latifah says. “I know [Queen Collection] was part of that because it sold — so they were like, oh, there’s a business here. And now everyone gets to have an opportunity to have shades and their color at an affordable price.”
Up next, Latifah will be creating more shows and film content through her deal with Universal Television and will be looking for five new directors for Queen Collective, her film mentoring and development program for women of color, to create five shorts to be released through Tribeca Film Festival and BET. She’s also working on an animated project at Netflix, The 13 1⁄2 Lives of Captain Bluebear, and was recently a producer on Netflix’s thriller The End of the Road.