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Nia Long talks about her recent movie, “MOOZ-lum,” a dysfunctional family drama where she plays Safiyah, the long-suffering wife of an overbearing, religious zealot.

Kam Williams
Nia Long talks about her recent movie, “MOOZ-lum,” a dysfunctional family drama where she plays Safiyah, the long-suffering wife of an overbearing, religious zealot.

Nia Long talks about her recent movie, “MOOZ-lum,” a dysfunctional family drama where she plays Safiyah, the long-suffering wife of an overbearing, religious zealot.

Nitara Carlynn Long was born in Brooklyn on Oct. 30, 1970, but was raised mostly in South Central Los Angeles in the wake of her parents’ divorce. The accomplished thespian of Trinidadian extraction first found fame on TV on “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” and she’s since enjoyed recurring roles on such series as “Judging Amy” (2001-2002), “Third Watch” (2003-2005), “Boston Legal” (2007), “Big Shots” (2007-2008) and, most recently, “The Cleveland Show” (2009-present).   

Her breakout performance on the silver screen was in 1997 when she starred opposite Larenz Tate in “Love Jones.” And her résumé includes outings in such films as “Are We There Yet?” “Are We Done Yet?” “The Best Man,” “Boiler Room,” “Boyz ‘n the Hood,” “Friday,” “Alfie,” “Soul Food,” “In Too Deep” and “Big Momma’s House” and its sequel.

In 2000, People Magazine named her one of the World’s 50 Most Beautiful People, and she also landed the No. 3 spot on Black Men Magazine’s 10 Sexiest Women List. Later that same year, Long had a son, Massai Doresy Jr.

You’ve done an impressive body of work covering comedic and dramatic roles. What attracted you to the script about this mother conflicted between her son and her husband?

Hmm … That’s a good question … I just thought the film had so many wonderful layers of the journey that women take with motherhood. There’s no book out there that tells you how to be a good parent. So much of parenting is following your instincts, and taking the time to actually know your child. I’m raising a 10 year-old boy, and my son in the film, Tariq [Evan Ross] goes through the traditional growing pains associated with transitioning from a boy to a young man. When I read the script, I immediately thought to myself, “Wow! This is a really special movie. It’s entertaining, it deals with a lot of social issues and it addresses practical parenting concerns that everyone can relate to.” 

Did having a son yourself help in portraying the mother in the movie?

Absolutely! The minute your child is born, your life is changed forever. I think I’ve become so aware of how important balance is in life. I have to constantly make sure that it stays that way for myself and for my son, because if I’m not emotionally available for him it will impede his development. Yet, if I don’t work, we’ll be living in a cardboard box. Therefore, working on this film, I understood Safiyah’s search to balance being a devout Muslim woman with allowing her child his natural curiosity and desire to explore in life.   

What were your feelings about Islam before taking the role and after the film wrapped?

When I was a young girl, my mother traveled to Abu Dhabi, which is a Muslim country. When she returned home, she taught me a lot about Islam. So, I was already familiar with the religion’s basic teachings. But in preparation for this role, I definitely got to experience Islam on a much more intimate level. The one thing that stands out in my mind is the commitment Muslim women make to each other. They are so supportive and so loving, and they do everything together. It’s really all about family, and I like that because I’m a family-oriented person. I believe that whatever your religious preference, there has to be a commitment to family because everything really does start there. Hopefully, this film will help to eliminate stereotypes, because Muslim women are misunderstood. They’re strong, beautiful, classic, contemporary and so much more.   

Is there an African American icon that you would love to portray in a film?  

I was very interested in portraying Nina Simone until I heard that Mary J. Blige is doing it. I’m sure she’ll do the role more justice because I am not a singer. I just think Nina was a very mysterious woman, and a trailblazer who came along at such an important time in our history. She did it her way, and she has one of the most unique voices in jazz history.

How do you feel about the number of black actors who are often paired with white leading ladies in movies?

It is what it is. As long as the acting is good, I can appreciate it. It would certainly would be great to see more films featuring the black family and showing that we are capable of having that unit strong and present and beautiful, because that’s so much of who we really are. For me, that’s missing sometimes when I watch films.

But since Denzel and Will are superstars, studio execs don’t necessarily see them as black. They see them as superstars. I suspect they pair them with a white or a Latina star because that takes the pressure off their having to market the movie as a black film, which in my opinion is completely ridiculous. But we still have a lot of growing and maturing to do in terms of how we view black people, the black family and black filmmaking, because we shouldn’t be narrowly pigeonholed. We are not just one thing. We have so many different voices and experiences. And on the flip side, there are black men who are madly in love with white women. God bless them, if that’s what works for them. I just hope that we can strike a balance that portrays black folks and the black family in a light that’s not extreme. Those are the types of characters that I find myself attracted to.

Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

Hmm … No, not really. That’s kind of a weird question. I don’t know how to answer that. I guess the question would be: Are you happy? People never ask that.

So, are you happy?

I am! I am very happy. At this moment, I’m the happiest I’ve been in a very long time. But it’s different from the surface happy, it’s the soul happy. That’s how I’m feeling right now. The last couple years have been difficult, not just financially, but for my 90-year-old grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s and for my mom who’s a retired schoolteacher. So, it’s been difficult seeing the cycle of life changing. Things that used to work a few years ago don’t anymore. And that transition from the old to the new can be challenging.

I’ve spent a lot of time recently sorting out what’s important and what’s not so important. And after doing that spring cleaning of the self you end up with a streamlined life that’s simple, balanced and very clear. After working 20 years in the business, it’s been satisfying to take the time to do that for Nia. It’s a testimony to my personal growth.

What is your favorite dish to cook?

I love making breakfast: turkey bacon, fried eggs over-medium, home fried potatoes, English muffins, oatmeal with berries and a great fruit smoothie. I love breakfast!

Who is your favorite clothes designer?

Ooooooh! I’m going to have to say Badgley Mischka’s beautiful gowns for women. I love Dolce for that classic sexy look. And Stella McCartney’s fantastic  because she takes a classic design and makes it really functional, but funky and edgy at the same time. And I love shoes. I am a shoe fanatic. I have a special closet in my home just for my shoes. I hope I have a little girl one day because she is going to win the lottery in the shoe department.

When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

I see a pretty, brown girl who was born in Brooklyn, grew up in South Central L.A. and did alright for herself.

If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

A conversation with Michelle Obama.

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Enjoy life, study hard, play hard, be kind to other people, set high standards and don’t be afraid to say, “No.”

How do you want to be remembered?

As a great mother and a great friend, and as truthful and fair.  

What price are you willing to pay for a cause that is bigger than your own self interest?

I don’t look upon it as having to pay a price. I think that if something matters to you, and is important to you, then you give it the attention and energy it deserves. So, I don’t look upon it as a price, but as an opportunity to influence the community in a healthy way.