As a central figure in a bevy of black film classics, Nia’s roles—and real life—trace the evolution of the modern black woman. Take a glimpse into the current state of the Long life, as we continue to worship at the temple of her familiar.
BY ANGELA BRONNER HELM | PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARC BAPTISTE | STYLING BY JASON BOLDEN | MAKE UP BY SAISHA BEECHAM | HAIR BY URSULA STEPHENS
NIA LONG HAS BEEN THERE FOR US.
For women, and those who adore the feminine, she ushered us through each stage of our lives in real time: whether it was our bewildering teens bearing witness to black bodies falling in inner-cities all across America, or later in the decade, when we still managed to fall in heady, mad love during our whirling 20s. She sometimes reflected our working class roots, or maybe the steep climb we took slaying corporate America in our 30s. For our 40s, Long’s characters have done it all: swirled, married, divorced, bore children—all with authenticity and poise.
For men, or those who embrace the masculine, Long has always been the kind of girl or woman you can confidently take home to momma. She is the poster girl for indisputable beauty: sun kissed, luminous brown skin and warm eyes with deep pools of a knowing sensuality. She’s the girlfriend who takes no mess, but still manages to be sweet, relatable and sexy. She’s the wife you know will hold you down without fail.
As an actress, Long appears in no less than four classics in the African American film pantheon: Boyz n the Hood, Love Jones, Friday and The Best Man (five, if you count television’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air). She has, in fact, been an integral part of our most beloved visual legacies.
Long has grown up with us and has transitioned from a Gen X hip-hop honey into a mother, wife and regularly working actress. As she navigates her 40s, she has managed to carve out an enduring representation of black womanhood through her impressive body of work.
“I’m a woman over 40, so thank God I’m working,” says Long, 45. “I’m not trying to be an ingénue anymore. I wouldn’t want those opportunities because then that would just mean that I haven’t grown.”
In April, Long returns to the big screen in Kegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s cinematic debut, Keanu. She also co-stars alongside Mike Epps in ABC’s half-hour comedy vehicle, Uncle Buck, slated to premiere in June.
“I think the whole point as an artist is that you want your work, in some sort of way, to reflect how you’ve evolved as a person and as a woman. The more you work, the smarter you are,” she reflects.