Sanaa Lathan first caught the attention of critics and audiences alike in a
series of witty, thought-provoking '90s films about the lives of young
African-Americans. Featured prominently in such ensemble films as The Best Man
and The Wood, both in 1999. Lathan won her first starring role in Gina Prince-Bythewood's
widely acclaimed Love & Basketball in 2000, starring as a talented basketball
player who finds her professional dreams complicated by her relationship with
her boyfriend and her own expectations of herself. Lathan's work in the film,
along with her performance that same year in Prince-Bythewood's HBO movie
Disappearing Acts, presented the actress as a charismatic new talent to watch.
Sanaa Lathan, whose first name is Swahili for "Work of Art", was the second oldest of five children born to Broadway actress and dancer Eleanor McCoy and director/producer Stan Lathan. Surrounded by show business since birth, Lathan began training in dance and gymnastics at an early age. Following her parents' divorce, she grew up shuttling between her mother's home in New York and Los Angeles, California, where her father lived. During her undergraduate education at the University of California, Berkeley, where she majored in English and toyed with the idea of becoming a lawyer, Lathan became involved with the Black Theater Workshop. Thanks in part to her stage experiences with the Workshop, she was encouraged to try out for the Yale School of Drama, where she was ultimately accepted.
Following her training at Yale, where she performed in a number of Shakespeare's plays, Lathan earned acclaim both off-Broadway and on the Los Angeles stage. Encouraged by her father to make Los Angeles her professional base, the young actress found early television roles on episodes of such shows as In the House, Family Matters, NYPD Blue, and Moesha. During that same period, she won raves and a Best Actress nod from the Los Angeles NAACP Theatrical Award Committee for her performance in To Take Arms.
In 1998, Sanaa Lathan earned a degree of recognition with her role as the mother of Wesley Snipes' title character in Blade. She followed this the subsequent year with back-to-back turns in The Best Man, The Wood, and Brown Sugar. The Best Man was a comedic ensemble film, starring Taye Diggs, Nia Long, and Morris Chestnut, and featured Lathan as Diggs' girlfriend. While The Wood, another ensemble film starring Diggs and Omar Epps, cast her as the love interest of Epps, who also happened to be her real-life boyfriend.
Sanaa Lathan and Epps were reunited onscreen in Prince-Bythewood's Love & Basketball, this time playing a couple as passionate about basketball as they are about each other. The widely lauded film served as a break-out role for Lathan, who was finally able to play a leading character instead of the girlfriend of one. Her work in Love & Basketball earned her "Best Actress" nominations for both the NAACP Image Award and the Independent Spirit Award. That same year, Lathan earned additional acclaim for her work in the multicultural comedy Catfish in Black Bean Sauce and for her second collaboration with Prince-Bythewood, Disappearing Acts. Based on a novel by Terry McMillan, the HBO movie cast Lathan as an aspiring singer/songwriter in love with a carpenter, played by her Blade co-star Wesley Snipes. For her work in the film, Lathan earned an Essence Award for "Best Actress", as well as the added assurance of a very busy work schedule.
Awards & nominations
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