The beauty of Black cinema was represented Saturday at the gorgeously curated Queen & Slim First Look at Gallier Hall during Essence Festival in New Orleans.
Emmy-winning writer Lena Waithe and director Melina Matsoukas presented the riveting opening 13 minutes of the film–a glimpse into the lives of a Black man (Oscar-nominated Daniel Kaluuya) and a Black woman (Jodie Turner-Smith) who are on a first date when they’re pulled over for a failure to signal by an aggressive, nervous cop.
The traffic stop quickly turns deadly when the man kills the police officer in self-defense. The clip ends with the two deciding to go on the lam.
Immediately after the screening of this cinematically lush look at what seems certain to be an important film, Waithe and Matsoukas were in conversation with designer and entrepreneur Melody Eshani in which they spoke about the film’s thematic predecessors, including Bonnie & Clyde, Thelma and Louise, and Set It Off. These films, Waithe said, had the premise of “our backs are against the wall. What do we have to do to survive?”
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Based on an original idea by novelist James Frey, Queen & Slim is the first feature film for both Waithe and Matsoukas, who’d met previously on the set of Masters of None.
It’s always a minor miracle to get a film made, but what is perhaps most impressive here is Waithe and Matsoukas have final cut, which is to say they have the last word over what the completed project looks like, as opposed to a Hollywood studio.
This sort of freedom is almost unheard of for first-time filmmakers, but it comes at a price.
“Every day we’re fighting to have control of our narrative,” said Matsoukas.
The writer-director duo (who Waithe likened to “some Quincy Jones/Michael Jackson shit”) maintain that the film is a reflection of the times.
“There’s so much Black death surrounding us,” Waithe said. “For me, I just kind of wanted to turn the tables a bit where we keep breathing and the oppressor doesn’t. I want to give voice to all the nameless faceless men and women of color whose lives were taken by police officers unjustly who didn’t make it home.”
Matsoukas’ take on the film is equally compelling and necessary.
“To me,” she said, “it was about Black love.”
Queen & Slim debuts in theaters this Thanksgiving weekend. You can also listen to and download “Slim’s Playlist” on Spotify.