Corrections & clarifications: An earlier version of this report misstated James Frey’s involvement in "Queen & Slim." He shares a story credit with Lena Waithe.
NEW YORK – "Queen & Slim" isn't trying to make people comfortable.
In the new drama (in theaters Wednesday) starring Daniel Kaluuya and Hollywood newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith, screenwriter and producer Lena Waithe weaves together a tragic tale of two near strangers on a first date who end up on the run after a police encounter turns deadly.
Director Melina Matsoukas' big screen debut follows Queen (Turner-Smith) and Slim (Kaluuya) on their "Odyssey"-esque cross-country journey after a viral video shows the black couple shooting a white police officer in self-defense during a traffic stop – heroes to some, villains to others.
"It’s almost a battle cry for every black person we’ve lost from a (police officer’s) gun or a vigilante’s gun simply because of the fact that they’re black," Waithe says.
"I’ve been stopped and searched since I was a kid," Kaluuya adds. "It's the same disease (in England). ... I’ve had to navigate (experiences) that really just put me in that place when you’re fighting for your life and fighting for your freedom."
"It’s a really true representation of racism in law enforcement," says Matsoukas, who directed Beyoncé's 2016 "Formation" video. "I really tried to place audiences in the perspective of being a person of color getting pulled over by an officer and not knowing if you would come out of the situation dead or alive, and what that feels like to be hunted."
James Frey, who authored "A Million Little Pieces," approached Waithe with the basic idea for the plot, acknowledging that he couldn't write the movie on his own because he didn't think it was his story to tell.
"I was like, 'That is a movie I want to write,'" Waithe says. "He said, 'I can’t write this movie, so I’m just trying to give the idea to somebody.' I was the person, I was ready."
Her goal was to tell an "authentic" story in which she "refused to code-switch."
When she started on the script, "‘Get Out’ and ‘Moonlight’ had not happened, the #MeToo movement had not gone down," Waithe says. "I had no idea how much more relevant it would become. … It’s traumatizing, but I had no choice but to write through that trauma."
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She had previously worked with Matsoukas on the acclaimed "Thanksgiving" episode of Netflix's "Master of None," based on Waithe's own coming-out experience, which earned her an Emmy Award for comedy series writing, making her the first African-American woman to win in that category.
The "Queen & Slim" script "honestly was everything I was looking for in a film," Matsoukas says. "It was protest art, it really had a strong perspective and a very singular voice. And at the same time it was a beautiful love story and was just entertaining."
Waithe dismisses comparisons of the characters to Bonnie and Clyde, saying Queen and Slim "represent a piece" of black culture: "There’s always been this kind of dichotomy of what is right, what kind of black should we be, and that’s what they represent."
The movie is bound to be polarizing for some audiences as they unpack the plot's violence and race commentary, but "Queen & Slim" is at its core a romance, a heart-pounding saga about a man and woman finding each other in the midst of their world burning down.
The romantic thriller road movie is incredibly specific, and yet simultaneously showcases a universal black story – a depiction of the struggle to survive as a black person in America, through whatever means necessary.
"We live in a day and age where you have to be specific to be general," Kaluuya says. "For 'Queen & Slim,' this experience is very unfiltered, very uninterrupted."
Matsoukas says she watched the videos of Sandra Bland's and Eric Garner's arrests as part of her research, and cites the work of music video director Hype Williams, Angela Davis' "Autobiography" and "Y Tu Mamá También" as some of her references in creating the movie.
"Is it hard to unpack? Sure," Waithe says. "It’s really tough when it’s real. Imagine being the family of these people. I didn’t want to disrespect them by trying to give people a Hollywood ending. That’s disrespectful to Emmett Till, to Trayvon Martin, to Sandra Bland, to Mike Brown, to Eric Garner – the list goes on."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Queen and Slim: Lena Waithe's new movie will have audiences talking