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Girl Talk

Sanaa Hamri and Sanaa Lathan Had a Blast Making a Serious Romantic Comedy

NEW JILL: Director Sanaa Hamri (third from left) works it out with (from left) Simon Baker, Sanaa Lathan, and Stephanie Allain on the set of Something New.

By Jason Torres | Posted 2/1/2006

Something New opens Feb. 3

Petite with a glowing complexion and welcoming smile, Sanaa Hamri is tucked away in the fine digs at Georgetown’s Ritz-Carlton hotel on a mild January afternoon. Something New, the debut movie from the hip-hop music-video director and stage veteran, is garnering as much buzz as the jittery coffee-fueled assistant ushering press in and out of the room. If there’s any reason for this frazzle, you can’t tell by reading Hamri’s vibe. “Sanaa Lathan will be in shortly,” the assistant says of the star of Something New. “Sanaa’s coming up?” Hamri excitedly replies. “Cool, I haven’t seen Sanaa all day.”

Taller and way prettier in person, Lathan appears, and the two instantly chat and smile like lifelong friends. “I can’t believe you’re wearing Ugg boots,” Hamri jokes.

“I know, right?” Lathan replies deadpan.

“It’s a running joke,” Hamri says, trying to explain the insider shoe talk. “We were out the other night and wearing heels, and the whole next day we were like, ‘It feels like the balls of out feet are on fire.’” Whether they wore some really hot but painful shoes to the club or if they just danced the night away is unclear; whatever the case, they clearly had a dope time.

Together the two Sanaas are playful and charming. Lathan twirls her hair occasionally, and speaks like the girl in high school that your friends would dare you to ask out but you knew you didn’t really have a shot with. Hamri’s sly, blinding smile punctuates nearly every comment she makes nearly to the point of distraction. Their laughter is almost constant, and they occasionally finish each other’s sentences. These two women obviously struck up a tight friendship on the set of this romantic comedy, in which Lathan’s Kenya reluctantly takes a chance in love with an unlikely, in her eyes, Mr. Right—a white architect.

“We had so much fun making this movie,” gushes the 34-year-old Lathan. “It was such a great experience. I already knew so many of the people in it. And there were times when all the girls were together—there was just some days when you’re laughing so hard and you can’t stop.”

“And I would just look at them like this,” Hamri interjects, tossing off a stern look with hands on hips. “I was like the mother on set, but we had a great time.”

Lathan says Hamri is “probably one of the few directors I’ve ever worked with who is really great with directing actors.” It comes from the Moroccan-born Hamri’s theater experience. “When I came to the States, I came to study acting and theater, mostly acting—body workshops and directing workshops,” Hamri says. “And it really aided me because, to communicate with them, I understand what it is to be up there, and I take that seriously. I spent time making sure that [Lathan] got the right feedback so she could do her thing and make it feel truly real, because Sanaa’s one of those actors who, if she’s not feeling it, it’s not going to work.”

Feeling it wasn’t too hard for Lathan to do. “I’ve dated interracially, and there have been times where I’ve experienced what Kenya goes through,” she says. “Y’know, like, ‘What are people gonna think?’”

It’s a concept almost any over-30 African-American woman can relate to, the idea that the perfect mate on paper may not be the perfect mate in person, and the clock is ticking. Anyone who has dated interracially, though, would be lying if they claimed they didn’t notice the stares you get just walking down the street. It’s especially the case in cities less integrated than Los Angeles or New York—such as, say, Baltimore, where the interracial dating taboo is heavily downplayed while clearly defined “black nights” and “white nights” go down at many popular clubs.

Something New touches upon this stigma—to wit, a good black man is hard to find, but keep looking, and whatever you do, don’t go white—but Hamri believes there’s little threat in it. “We deliberately start the movie in the mind-set of that attitude,” she says. “Like, ‘My soul mate is sitting right there in front of me, and I’m not going to look at him because he’s Chinese, but I’m going to look at everyone else who looks like me.’ I specifically made the movie this way to address those people, because I felt like if they actually go and see it, they’ll feel differently in the end.”

Both Lathan and Hamri are invested in enlightening as many people as they entertain. And why shouldn’t they? Like these two women, Something New is cute and fun and funny, but at its core it’s a complex and realistic commentary on the black woman’s experience. “It’s an issue nobody ever talks about because nobody really spends time with the female African-American character,” Hamri says.

It’s such unexamined situations that Hamri is really trying to address—such as the way many people still mentally tiptoe through the racial minefield, knowing that one erroneous comment can cause an explosion. That self-imposed filter prevents people from speaking their minds, killing any real racial dialogue, and Hamri sees a bigger picture in that tendency. “You need to look at this film as a metaphor for being free in your life,” she says. “If you’re at a job you don’t like and you want to try—no pun intended—something new, then go ahead and do it.”

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