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sanaa lathan says women in hollywood were unfriendly

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Sanaa Lathan has been making the rounds all week promoting her new film with Netflix Nappily Ever After, based on the best-selling novel by Trisha R. Thomas. She appeared earlier this week on MadameNoire’s In This Room to discuss combating negative self-talk, self-love and acceptance, themes that can be found in the movie which is all about a woman’s frustrating journey to find perfection and discovering something better when she detours from that path.

However, she revealed to ESSENCE that when it comes to pursuing a career in Hollywood, negative self-talk is only one hurdle she had to overcome. In the New York City premiere of the film, Lathan shared that women in Hollywood haven’t always been so kind to her:

“Just coming up in the business, I have been treated just horribly by some women that you may know.”

“I won’t call any names,” she said, “but when you’re working with somebody who’s maybe a little older than you — now I’m the older one — you don’t expect to get competition, and jealousy, and weird vibes on set. And I was very hurt, very early on in my career by a couple of different women.”

Lathan says that sharing a set with actress Lynn Whitfield on this latest project has been a different experience than what she may have encountered in the past, referring to the 65-year-old as “a light.” Whitfield plays Lathan’s character’s mother in the film and can be seen putting her hot comb skills on display. Lathan says with Whitfield, what you see is what you get:

“You can tell that. She’s so beautiful inside and out.”

Lathan made headlines months prior for shaving her real hair off for the film which explores beauty standards and the history of women attaching their beauty and self-esteem to their hair. Whitfield shared her thoughts on the issue, saying that in many ways women today still have such a complex relationship with hair and how their self-perception is affected by it:

“This is still an issue. It has not gone away. So I felt completely free to be this mother…who was so frightened by what this bold move would do to her daughter’s life — what it would cost her.”

It’s refreshing to see Lathan have such chemistry with another black actress. Earlier this year her name was making rounds in the gossip mill as comedian Tiffany Haddish went public with stories of the actress biting Beyoncé’s face. Lathan revealed to PEOPLE that she acknowledges in many ways the gossip comes with the territory, and after being in the industry for two decades she has developed a “thick skin”:

“It’s almost impossible if you’re on social media to not see stories about yourself. The good thing is I’ve been in this industry for 20 years so I have thick skin.”

The actress who won the hearts of audiences everywhere in her role opposite Omar Epps in the film Love and Basketball shares her thick skin also comes with keeping parts of her life private and for that reason she uses social media cautiously:

“I like to keep my private life private. In this day and age, there’s a line… everything is just so close. Everything is at the tip of your fingers, they have a peek into your world.”

“I think people are more in control of [their social media] than you think.”

“If you look at my social media, I try to stay with issues that are surrounding my work or promoting whatever I’m doing professionally. I feel like it’s not healthy to be sharing everything.”

Nappily Ever After is currently available to stream on Netflix.

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