Lena Waithe opened up to a room full of supporters on Monday, revealing the layered process she took in creating the highly anticipated Queen & Slim, ahead of the film’s November 27 release.
The event, hosted by culture reporter Melena Ryzik for the The New York Times, took place after a private screening of the film which stars Jodie Turner-Smith, and Daniel Kaluuya as the two dynamic leads.
Queen & Slim, the product of Emmy-winner Waithe and directed by Grammy-Award winner Melina Matsoukas, will undoubtedly leave audiences captivated with layered discussions surrounding race, class, police violence and the fears those living in a Black body confront on a daily basis.
It is a crippling anxiety Waithe knows all too well.
“I have never been protected or served by police,” Waithe said recounting images of the civil rights movement where the victims oftentimes resembled the family members she holds dear.
In sitting with those harsh realities, Waithe said she wanted to be sure to create art that totally shied away from what Toni Morrison dubbed as “the white gaze.”
“This is a movie in our native tongue,” Waithe said.
In Turner-Smith and Kaluuya, we see a couple on the run from state and federal authorities after Kaluuya’s character, Slim, is forced to turn the gun on a white police officer during a tense traffic stop. Slim and Queen take a fast-paced ride from the Midwest to through the Deep South under the weight of fear and abandonment, while finding empowerment through a burgeoning romance through the movie’s climatic end.
Over two years ago writer James Frey pitched Waithe the film’s opening scene at a Hollywood Reporter party where Waithe’s then girlfriend, Alana Mayo, was being honored. Frey, who openly conveyed that he was not in the position to write the script as a white man told Waithe, which immediately intrigued Waithe’s interest. After agreeing to write the film and fielding calls from several studios who got word of the film’s buzz-worthy outline, Waithe got all the ammo she needed in creating a dream team when Matsoukas signed on as the film’s director.
Matsoukas, who Waithe playfully dubbed the “Quincy to my Michael,” played a large role in the visual aesthetic of the film, as well as in sewing together the pieces of the story. “She is a unique, phenomenal being,” Waithe said of Matsoukas. We were pushing each other to be excellent everyday.”
“She makes my words move, she makes them dance.”
The film fell into total alignment after Kaluuya and Turner-Smith personally advocated to play the film’s leads.
Waithe revealed that the roles of Queen & Slim served as somewhat of a microcosm for her personal life. “I truly believe that our steps are ordered and if I hadn’t fallen in love with my wife, this movie would’ve never happened,” Waithe said.
Waithe, who recently married Mayo in a secret ceremony, said she reflected on the faith differences held between her and her wife while writing the script.
“I’m a person that’s a believer and my wife is not,” she began. “Slim is a simple man, a believer. Queen looks at life pragmatically. But over the course of the journey she gets closer to God. She sees how God brings him peace. Her desire to be excellent brings her peace.”
“With this I learned that Black joy is fleeting. And that we are still searching for freedom and we’re all doing it a different way,” she said when Ryzik asked what she learned from the film.
“That’s my job to show you my trauma and my scars and my soul,” Waithe said.
Her hope is that the film will send a resounding message to those who choose or fail to understand the unique beauty of the Black diaspora.
“If I can humanize Black people enough, maybe they will stop killing us,” said Waithe.
Watch the full conversation below.