Sanaa Lathan, pronounced Sa-NAA, "like Sinatra without the tra", was born on September 19, 1971, in New York, as her actress mother Eleanor McCoy performed on Broadway with the likes of Eartha Kitt, and her director father Stan Lathan worked behind the scenes in television for PBS. She was exposed to the life of entertainment and stars at a very early age, which had a profound impact upon her life. As a child, she was nurtured in athletics and the arts, through training in Gymnastics and Dance. She later became a product of divorced parents, whom she remained closely connected to, by being shuttled to live between them, both, in New York and Los Angeles. Those loving, supportive parents, the extremes of the public schools of New York City and the riches of the 90210 Beverly Hills High, served to build, within Sanaa, a humble spirit, a competitive nature, and a full awareness of self.
Being academically competitive and wanting to attain proficiency to become a successful professional, Sanaa began her college matriculation, attending the University of California at Berkeley in the liberal arts division, studying English. While an undergraduate, she continued to nurture the latent desire to express herself through the arts by performing with the "Black Theatre Workshop". Nearing the end of her college days with thoughts of what her next move would be, Sanaa considered the natural progression of an English major to law school, but her fate was sealed as she was encouraged to apply to the Masters program at the Yale School of Drama by a recruiter. Through the three years of the training and skill attainment that Yale provided, Sanaa was able to visualize how she could effectively combine her talents, giftedness and intelligence to express herself through this powerfully expressive art form called acting. She gained a love for the stage and the drama greats, like William Shakespeare, by performing in school productions such as "Othello", "Romeo and Juliet", "The Winter's Tale" and "Twelfth Night".
Desiring to live in New York near her mom, she began her career performing in off-Broadway productions, such as "Por' Knockers" and "A Movie Star Has to Be Born in Black and White". After seeing her perform in a number of productions and realizing her skill and ambitions, her father counseled and encouraged her to move to California, to get into the hot-bed of action that Hollywood could provide her in the business. Reluctantly, she made the move and has not turned back. Upon her own initiative, without the help of her accomplished dad, she was able to get notable appearances in television on shows such as In the House (1995), Moesha (1996), NYPD Blue (1993), Family Matters (1989) and the made-for-TV movie, Miracle in the Woods (1997), playing the younger character opposite Della Reese. She even obtained television series regular roles in two very short-lived sitcoms -- Built to Last (1997), that never got national distribution, and the two seasons-canceled NBC sitcom called LateLine (1998), in the role of an aggressive talent broker for a network news show. Honing her skills and returning to her passion for the stage, Sanaa also performed at the South Coast Repertory Theatre in the play, "Our Town", as well as other productions, while pursuing her career in television and the movies. Her first movie role came in the action movie, Drive (1997), where she played the estranged wife ("Carolyn Brody"), opposite Kadeem Hardison. Other brief, but substantial roles, came in the vampire action movie, Blade (1998), where she played the mother ("Vanessa Brooks") of lead actor Wesley Snipes, and the comedy, Life (1999), playing the girlfriend ("Daisy"), opposite Martin Lawrence, and the comedy/drama, The Wood (1999), where she played the adult girlfriend ("Alicia"), opposite Omar Epps. This chance meeting with Epps provided the opportunity for them to build a friendship and real-life romantic relationship. Upon completion of The Wood (1999) shoot, Sanaa went to New York to join the ensemble cast for her meatiest role to date in the comedy/romantic drama movie, The Best Man (1999). She played the career eclectic yet strong girlfriend ("Robin") role, opposite her fellow The Wood (1999) costar, Taye Diggs. In 2000, she appeared in the limited release independent comedy/drama, Catfish in Black Bean Sauce (1999), where, again, she plays a girlfriend ("Nina"), this time in an interracial relationship opposite the writer/actor director, Chi Muoi Lo. Also in 2000, she lent her acting talents under the direction of her brother, Tendaji Lathan, in his award-winning film short, The Smoker (2000). She also appeared in the acclaimed romantic drama, Love & Basketball (2000), where she played the lead role ("Monica") opposite her real-life boyfriend, Omar Epps. Sanaa gave the performance of her life in this women- empowering breakthrough role, written by the film's director, Gina Prince-Bythewood. The acting was no problem, but the basketball was not a skill Sanaa possessed. Having never touched a basketball and without a guarantee of getting the part, Sanaa spent several months training, with her brother and friends, with her costar/boyfriend and finally with a professional coach to look like a professional ball player for this movie. Bythewood, realizing the awesome talent of Sanaa, had her audition for the lead role in her next film direction, the made-for-television HBO movie, Disappearing Acts (2000), based on the best-selling novel by renowned author Terry McMillan. Sanaa again nailed the role, gaining 20 extra pounds to better depict the character of the book. Sanaa has also begun to extend herself in the business by co-producing a yet-to-be-released movie with Queen Latifah. The Los Angles NAACP Theatrical Award Committee rewarded Sanaa with a nomination for Best Actress for her work in the production To Take Arms. In 2000, Sanaa received the NAACP Image honor nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a motion picture for her role in The Best Man (1999). In 2001, she received the NAACP Image Award nomination for Best Actress in a motion picture for her excellent performance in Love & Basketball (2000), she would go on to win this most coveted award. During the same year, she was also nominated for the Indie Spirit Award for her role in Love & Basketball (2000). Considering the lack of color in the awarding process of the Oscars and the Golden Globes in 2001, many black organizations choose to recognize their powerful performances in 2000 among people of color. Essence Magazine awarded Sanaa the OMAR for Best Actress. BET allowed fans to select winners for which Sanaa won Best Actress for her role in Love & Basketball (2000) in the motion picture category as well as Best Actress in the television movie or mini-series category for her role in Disappearing Acts. The online magazine Reelimagemagazine.com also allowed fans and an expert panel to select winners for its awards. Again Sanaa won Best Actress for her role in Love & Basketball (2000).
Loved, admired and supported by her family, friends, fellow actors and fans, in addition to possessing that natural beauty, intelligence and gifted talent, Sanaa has the potential to sail over and above the ranks of other prominent stars. With limited-yet-growing roles or opportunities for African-Americans, in general, in film and women specifically, Sanaa is expected to break the barriers and forge her way into film history at an unprecedented and uninhibited style, both before and behind the camera, in the business. The name Sanaa means both "work of art" and "beauty" in Swahili -- how appropriate the name.