Sunday, April 18, 2021

EUR on the Scene: Director Melina Matsoukas Talks ‘Queen and Slim’

lena waithe - daniel kaluuya melina matsoukas
Lena Waithe – Daniel Kaluuya – Melina Matsoukas

*Black love is perhaps the single most important factor in maintaining the sanity of African-Americans within a paradigm where racism seems static and eternal against the backdrop of the Stars and Stripes. Yet, despite that, seldom has there been a motion picture that depicts it in all of its grand splendor and subtle details.   

But with the highly-anticipated film “Queen and Slim,” directed by Melina Matsoukas (“Insecure”) and produced by Lena Waithe, we find that oftentimes the harshness of our contemporary reality is often the catalyst for a life-changing connection. 

Recently, EURweb was in the building at the Bryant Park Hotel in New York City to screen the first 15 minutes of “Queen and Slim,” starring Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith, which tells the story of a couple who, following a rather awkward first date, get pulled over by a police officer whose callous decision-making escalates the situation to one of life and death.  

While on the run, the two become Internet sensations and defacto heroes to many disenfranchised people across the country.  

Director Melina Matsoukas has been doing her thing directing videos from the hottest names in music over the past ten years, but her come up is about to kick into high gear with the release of this film, slated to drop in November 2019. 

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Matsoukas participated in a bi-coastal video chat regarding the film and answered questions from the gathered press on both coasts. 

“We wanted her to be a black woman who was strong, educated and coming from a path that we haven’t really seen portrayed onscreen before,” said Matsoukas when asked of the stage presence of actress Jodie Turner-Smith. “And it was really important to show that we’re not a monolith of people. He’s just a regular guy and has really satisfaction in just being that.

She comes from an impoverished background and education was her way out. She was quite successful as a lawyer and her fight against injustice. Like trying to get people off death row.  We wanted to show different sides of black culture and black life, and that black people can come together and maybe not hit it off.  These are two people that probably would have never seen each other again.  But the common experience they’re forced to go through brings them together.” 

As stated previously, Queen and Slim about a couple on the run, though they’re actually on the run in the film. The real story is about the love story that ignites between them and, subsequently, the unexpected support from the community that buoys them along their journey.  

“It’s a modern black love story where they’re able to support each other in ways they didn’t know they needed.”  

“Love is one, police brutality is another theme. You know, we created this film to honor those black people who lost their lives because of police brutality and try to bring that conversation to the table.

I love the concept of the racial climate in this story because it makes it contemporary.  But the main theme is how black love and unity among our people is our best power in the fight against injustice, the fight against oppression.” 

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Melina Matsoukas
Melina Matsoukas

EURweb:  Were they some of the steps taken to ensure that old tropes and stereotypes of black life and death didn’t creep into the creative process? 

“We were very conscious of every decision we made. We wanted to portray black people as living, breathing and thriving every day. One of our main concerns was not showing black people as victims but to be empowered. Maybe that was accidental in this case but both Lena and I made a conscious decision. We didn’t want to create a film where black people were the victims.”  

“I read a story about black love stories being based on white archetypes and how nothing really be our own. The uncle calls them the black Bonnie and Clyde, but that’s not really who they are.  A lot of my references and influences come from black culture because that’s who I am. 

One of them was from Hype Williams, an amazing hip-hop video director in the 90s. I had never seen black people captured in the way that he was able to do.

Spike Lee, obviously, for creating films that delve into the political climate of the time and capture them in a wonderful aesthetic. And also, the queen of black women filmmakers, Julie Dash, who directed Daughters of the Dust. She also captures the Gullah island culture so well because she was connected. She influenced me as an artist and a filmmaker.” 

For some, the emergence of Jodie Foster-Smith will hit them like a comet simply because they didn’t see it coming, but Matsoukas told the press that it was very apparent Jodie would be a star very early on. 

“She was tremendous then. Obviously amazing and concentrating on her modeling at the time.  Then my career went to the narrative space and I think during that time she really worked on her craft. She honed her craft as an actress. Both Lena and I wanted to use this opportunity and platform to introduce a wonderful actress to the world. A new voice, a new performer. “  

“We had a challenge because Daniel was attached to the film beforehand. I call him our Sidney Poitier, our Paul Robeson, our Denzel Washington. He is a force to be reckoned with and I thought we needed a very strong performer, especially in a film about the black experience, to stand her ground against him.

She came into that vision and she killed it.  There was no question that she was our Queen. When we brought him in, after she auditioned, we brought him in for a test. She was so confident and didn’t shrink under his talent. She stood tall and confident and actually made him blush.” 

For some, film and television are a superficial art form, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. These images and words can inspire and astound those who’re hungry to see more from black content creators and actors alike.

“With black love stories we talk about Love Jones and a couple of others that we’ve seen on screen, but it’s a shame that we haven’t seen to many black love stories, especially between two dark skin African-American actors. That’s important to us.

We’re trying to change that idea with two incredible African-American actors who are on the darker side of the spectrum.  They weren’t based on anybody specific, but we wanted to create our own black love story that felt modern.  Queen and Slim are supposed to represent all of us. All the different shades of black and all the different styles and pieces of our culture.” 

Ricardo Hazell (aka EurWebWriter) is an NYC-based writer. Contact him via: Rick_Hazell@yahoo.com.

EurWebWriter
Ricardo A. Hazell began his career in journalism in 1996 as a Research Intern for the prestigious Editor & Publisher Co. His byline has appeared in The Root, Washington Post, Black Enterprise and he helped define culture within the African Diaspora as Senior Cultural Contributor at The Shadow League. Currently working on the semi-autobiographical novel "Remorse".

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