On The Set Of Lena Waithe's Upcoming Film 'Queen & Slim,' Black Love And Protest Art Collide
Penned by Emmy Award winner Lena Waithe, and helmed by visionary artist and Grammy Award winner Melina Matsoukas in her feature directorial debut, the drama film Queen & Slim is unlike anything we've seen before in cinema. The film follows an unlikely pairing: Slim (Daniel Kaluuya), a blue-collar guy with a subdued temperament, and Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith), a fiercely determined lawyer, who find themselves on a lackluster first date. However, things take a drastic turn when they kill a police officer in self-defense. As they embark on a race for their lives, they flee from Cleveland to New Orleans before eventually landing in Florida. All the while, police are hot on their trails. While en route, the duo unpacks the current state of Black America, police brutality, their own humanity and their developing feelings for one another.
"If you're thrown into a situation with somebody you're not familiar with, you learn about that person real fast, especially in a situation like this," Waithe explained when Shadow And Act stopped by their New Orleans set during filmiing. "Again, they're very different. They handle things very differently--they relate to each other very differently; they walk through the world very differently."
Well before Kaluuya and Turner-Smith sat in a turquoise Catalina together, Waithe knew she needed someone extraordinary to bring her vision to life. Matsoukas, who has given us everything from Rihanna's "We Found Love" music video, to Beyoncé's "Formation" and Master of None's "Thanksgiving" episode, was the only person The Chi creator knew she could trust with Queen and Slim's story. "I think it's like Michael [Jackson] with Quincy [Jones]," she explained. "I just feel so honored. She's such a talent. You guys know the work she's done. Everybody was trying to get her to do a movie, and for her to say, 'This is the movie, this is the thing I want.' She's like, 'A lot of people give me gifts, but this is the gift I wanted to receive.'"
Undoubtedly, there is a particular pressure that comes with presenting a debut feature film to the world. Therefore, Matsoukas had been very deliberate about taking her time before saying "Yes" to Waithe and Queen & Slim. "It spoke to me," she revealed. "I had been looking for my first feature for a while now --for years, honestly. I'm one where if I'm not passionate about the story, and the storytelling and the writing, I'd rather not do it. If I don't feel like I can give my all to something, it's better not to have it. Lena and I had worked together on Master of None, and that was our first collaboration. It was perfect. I didn't want my passion for Lena and working with Lena to dictate that I would do this film. I had to take that out of it. I read the script, and I couldn't put it down. Once I read it, I said, 'Absolutely! Yes.' That never happens. To read something that you gravitate toward immediately was an honor, a pleasure, a relief, and really inspiring. I put that script down, and I was like, 'Let's go.'"
Once the script was in order, and Matsoukas was on board, the next big hurdle that Waithe had to jump through was finding her perfect cast to bring the vision and the main themes of Queen & Slim to life. Academy Award nominee Daniel Kaluuya was the first actor attached to the project. "Lena came to a Get Out screening," Kaluuya remembered. "That's where I first met her. She mentioned this Bonnie and Clyde movie, and I was like 'What's that!?' I met up with her, and then she sent it to me. On the way back from Comic-Con for Black Panther, I read it, and I was like, 'I want it. I want to play Slim.' He just feels like an everyman. He feels like a guy that wants to do good, but things happen. Standing up for yourself is dangerous sport…"
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Image: Andre D. Wagner/ Universal Pictures.