Y’all. Meet Queen & Slim. And instantly fall in lust, love and lure.
Penned by Lena Waithe (from an original idea by A Million Little Pieces author James Frey, who approached her about it at an industry party) and helmed by Melina Matsoukas, at first glance, Queen & Slim looks to bolt its way into the likes of classics such as Bonnie & Clyde and Thelma & Louise. Except we won’t have to compare it to those films anymore, we’ll have our own—and it’ll be black as fuck.
From the official press release:
While on a forgettable first date together in Ohio, a black man (Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya) and a black woman (Jodie Turner-Smith, in her first starring feature-film role), are pulled over for a minor traffic infraction. The situation escalates, with sudden and tragic results, when the man kills the police officer in self-defense. Terrified and in fear for their lives, the man, a retail employee, and the woman, a criminal defense lawyer, are forced to go on the run. But the incident is captured on video and goes viral, and the couple unwittingly become a symbol of trauma, terror, grief and pain for people across the country.
As they drive, these two unlikely fugitives will discover themselves and each other in the most dire and desperate of circumstances, and will forge a deep and powerful love that will reveal their shared humanity and shape the rest of their lives.
The glorious black sheen in the cover pic above (shot by the hella talented Andre D. Wagner, a 2018 Root 100 honoree) is the first-look still from the upcoming film, set to kick off Thanksgiving weekend this year. Plus, a little birdie told me you should tune into the BET Awards this Sunday because you just may be in for a special teaser.
Two days after the 2019 Academy Awards, I hopped on a plane to New Orleans to visit the set of Queen & Slim with a bunch of other black-ass journalists on a mission to get the scoop from Waithe, Matsoukas, Kaluuya, Turner-Smith, and costume designer Shiona Turini. From that slick-ass Pontiac 400 (which Kaluuya drove around; there wasn’t a process trailer!) to the gritty cloth of their wardrobe, we immediately felt a part of the world Matsoukas and her crew had created. I was so geeked, I almost forgot about that oppressive ass humidity.
Plus, shoutout to the entire crew who were more than welcoming to us as they served us King Cake (spoiler alert: no lucky baby in mine!) and took us on a NOLA tour that, of course, included the ability to wrap ourselves in the holy warmness known as Cafe du Monde beignets. Much like how black people have to navigate, we found ourselves wrapped in the dichotomy of living in the joy of NOLA and the heaviness of this film.
“I wrote [this film] during a very turbulent time,” Waithe told us as she took a break from wearing her many hats to chat with us. “We’re doing the first season of The Chi, when I was struggling to get power on my own show. So, it was very much a protest because I wasn’t really able to write as much on the show as I wanted, I didn’t have as much control over the creative [aspect]. So I said, ‘Oh, I’m going to do the thing that God put inside of me, which is to write.”
There seems to be an ongoing sense of divine order when it comes to her collaborative journey with Matsoukas. The two have previously made magic with Master of None, with Matsoukas helming the very episode that won Waithe her historic Emmy—“Thanksgiving.” Now, with Queen & Slim, Matsoukas is stepping into a personal history—her first feature. No pressure.
“It spoke to me,” Matsoukas confirmed. “I have been looking for my first feature for a while now. For years, honestly.” It’s no coincidence that the script she truly connected with was Waithe’s. In fact, Waithe refers to the two of them as “Michael [Jackson] and Quincy [Jones]”.
As for what to look forward to in the film, while Waithe obviously couldn’t give us too much without getting in trouble with the studio heads, she did say the film will explore black love that extends past romantic love and the frustrating inner workings of the criminal justice system. There will also be a “Martin Luther King Jr. versus Malcolm X” dynamic and they’ll tackle the adage of “not all skinfolk are kinfolk.” And there will be fire, both literally and symbolically.
As far as tone, Matsoukas confirmed she plays with color palettes (if you’ve seen any of her music videos, you know she and her camera team do this well) going from a “saturated” feel to the “colors warming up and becoming richer.”
“The vision was very specific,” Turini confirmed of the wardrobe. “Lena was very direct in the kind of the color palette she wanted and saw, [so] we developed from there.”
As for the stars of the journey, there’s Kaluuya—who has, arguably, the most intensely unnerving yet intriguing eyes in the business—and then there’s Turner-Smith who, from our interactions with her, is a goddamn star in the making.
“Once I read it, I [thought] this is a really interesting and complex character,” Turner-Smith recalled, also confirming that she read Angela Davis’s biography and watched the HBO documentary, Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland as a source of inspiration. “[Queen is] a woman who is in a lot of pain.”
As for Kaluuya, this script spoke to him in a visceral way.
“I lived this shit, man,” Kaluuya told me when I asked what he specifically drew from to portray Slim.
“I remember we did the opening scene in Cleveland, Ohio and it was really triggering for me,” he continued, referring to the interaction with cops as a “forced passivity” thrust upon black men. “Being in that space. We can be so desensitized to the imagery of black people being beaten up by the police and you don’t realize if you’re an individual being beaten by [the police], you can’t actually beat them back up.”
For black folks, that frustration is very real, and it’s why this almost-surreal plot is one that’ll have us gripping our throats in suspense and relating to the fiery sentiment just the same.
“I want to weave my blood on the page, and if I can do that, I’ll live forever,” Waithe concluded. I have a feeling that no matter what happens to these two characters who I’ve already become attached to, the blood of their stories will live forever. I guess that’s what’s so great about art. I look forward to riding dirty with Queen and Slim, indeed.
Queen & Slim escapes into theaters on Wednesday, Nov. 27 (North America).