Universal’s Queen & Slim doesn’t open in theaters until the week of Thanksgiving (November 27), but the film written by Lena Waithe and directed by Melina Matsoukas is already causing a buzz as part of a new wave, serving a Black narrative that is challenging the cinematic status quo. During the Vanity Fair Summit on Tuesday, Waithe and Matsoukas talked to NBC Nightly News‘ Lester Holt about how Queen & Slim will change the game.
The film has drawn comparisons to Bonnie and Clyde and stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith as the title couple on a first date. The innocent story takes a turn when they are pulled over for a traffic violation and the encounter turns deadly, with Slim shooting the over-zealous policeman in self-defense. The encounter is caught on video and goes viral, and the two head out on the road, becoming folk heroes to people across the country.
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“They refuse to be victims — they decide to live,” Waithe told Holt. “It’s open season on black bodies. It’s my job to tell this story.” She points out that this story doesn’t have black characters being killed by cops rather it is black characters killing a cop — which will certainly be divisive (we’ll get to that later).
As Matsoukas first feature film, she wanted the movie to be rooted in authenticity so that it will show all audiences, regardless of color, the black experience, their struggle and their lives. She also points out that the film subverts the oppressive narrative that the black community is often faced with. “We come out as victors and not victims,” she said of Queen & Slim.
Matsoukas remarks that beyond the Bonnie and Clyde-esque narrative, the movie represents a story of black love and black unity. Waithe said the movie shows “the humanity we have.” She adds, “When people look at black people, they see things about them before speaking to them.” She points out that the film promotes empathy and human connection, something that many could afford these days when black people are getting killed for simply living their lives.
Waithe said that Queen & Slim isn’t pulling any punches and that she hasn’t seen anyone do a film like this before. “We are not putting this story through a white gaze,” she said. “This is our version of white movies.”
When Holt asked Waithe about the potential controversy Queen & Slim might bring to the forefront when it comes to police violence against the black community, she simply said, “I welcome it.”
“That’s what we do as artists — we make enough noise that you have to notice us,” she adds. “You’re not doing your job well if this President doesn’t tweet about you — I hope the President tweets about it.”
Matsoukas punctuated that sentiment by adding: “You can’t create change unless you do something that’s provocative.”