Queen Latifah is ready to put her stamp on “The Equalizer.”
As a teen, Latifah (born Dana Owens) watched Edward Woodward in CBS’ original 1985-89 series. And she applauds Denzel Washington, who played former intelligence officer Robert McCall in 2014 and 2018 films.
“The only reservation I had was Denzel,” Latifah, 50, says. “I had to figure out how to create a character that was going to be different from his and obviously not get in his lane, but not like the original, either.”
In CBS’ remake (Sunday, approximately 10 EST/7 PST, following the Super Bowl, then Sundays at 8 EST/PST), the character is now Robyn. And Latifah says the timing feels right for the Equalizer to be a Black single mom hellbent on providing justice to the afflicted who can’t rely on law enforcement.
Latifah signed on for the reboot in part because she likes the thought of “delivering some justice (as) a Black woman on network television. I thought the idea of it was incredible and necessary and fun.”
Like the original series, the remake follows a former CIA agent who anonymously dispenses justice. And not only is the update led by a woman, it also addresses relevant issues including race.
“When we started this project,” she says, “little did we know that we would face a pandemic; we would face such amazing divisiveness in this country; we would have to deal with a real, real hard look at the racial inequities, of the social inequities, of the financial inequities of this country.
“We just didn’t know that, God, would we need to see justice,” she says. “There’s just so many different things that are going on that made this show timely.”
The role adds another accomplishment to Latifah’s running list. She’s a Grammy-winning rapper, Oscar-nominated actress (“Chicago”), two-time daytime talk show host and an Emmy-winning producer (“Bessie”). And, says executive producer Debra Martin Chase, she’s only the fourth Black woman to lead a major network drama, following Teresa Graves (“Get Christie Love!”), Kerry Washington (“Scandal”) and Viola Davis (“How to Get Away with Murder”).
“I think one of the advantages we had was that we created this show for Queen Latifah,” Chase said last week. “So it wasn’t like (producers) wrote a script and then we decided to cast a Black woman in the role that was written kind of in the vanilla way. Robyn McCall was developed as a Black woman.”
Along with assisting a young waitress wrongfully accused of murder, Sunday’s premiere takes on racial inequities. In the closing scene, Robyn brings her rebellious daughter Delilah (Laya DeLeon Hayes) to a prison to illustrate why the teen should make good choices.
Robyn tells her daughter to look at the prisoners, many of whom are Black. “Tell me what most of them have in common,” Robyn says.
“The world is just looking for a reason to put a young, Black girl like you on the other side of that fence,” Robyn says. “Don’t help it along.”
Latifah says she helped shape the scene in order for it to honestly portray the issue.
“Because of the racial history of our country, too many people of African descent in this country, are in jail, unnecessarily,” she says. “There’s clearly a problem there. There’s clearly an imbalance there. There’s clearly injustice there.”
No wonder she feels the moment is right for an “Equalizer.”