Late last year, moviegoers experienced a piece of art that challenged them to view the black American experience from a powerful and often not-seen-enough perspective – love. The lovechild of two celebrated black artists, Emmy-Award winning writer, Lena Waithe and multi-award- winning director, Melina Matsoukas, Queen and Slim sparked a great deal of buzz and conversation from its very first previews until today, as it enjoys a wider release around the world.
Last week, we had the opportunity to have a brief chat with Matsoukas, and actor, Daniel Kaluuya, who plays Slim, while they were in Lagos for the premiere of the film, hosted by UMG Nigeria in conjunction with Filmhouse Cinemas . Sonia Irabor, explored the power of “tiny everyday moments” in the global black experience, mental health and vulnerability and much more!
Warning: this interview may contain a few spoilers.
Sonia: Melina, there were moments highlighted on screen, that to a black woman would seem like small, normal everyday occurrences; Queen taking her braids out, for example. But these are things we just don’t see on screen very often. How important were such “little” moments in the telling of this story? Especially in a world where people are still giving credit to white popular artists for things that are very much rooted in black
culture, black history and black normalcy…
Melina: You know, I pay so much attention to detail. I think that all the small moments, the small details, add to our narrative and it’s important that we reclaim them as ours. I had just never really seen two women share such an intimate moment before, so I knew I wanted that to be a part of her transition in terms of Queen taking out her braids and in terms of her becoming herself. You know, she hides in plain sight by becoming who
she truly is. I felt like that was important. I felt like it was important to show that fish frying and that skillet because food is so much a part of how we feed ourselves. So much about our culture [is musical], that you hear the sounds of who we are as they travel south. They all add to the experience of Queen and Slim and they’re all parts of the black
experience, so it can’t just be the story without all these different moments coming in that really ground us in our own narrative.
Sonia: Did that in any way feel rebellious? As normal as that seems, did it feel like an act of rebellion?
Melina: It didn’t feel rebellious at the time. It just felt honest and true to who we are and my own experiences as a black woman. But since I’ve seen the reaction to moments like that, now it feels like this is revolutionary because it’s never happened before. I didn’t have those images growing up to look at. I was just at my alma mater, AFI, speaking to the students and there was, you know, one or two black students, black filmmakers, and they were like; when that scene came up, how deeply it resonated with them as black women. And I felt like, oh I’m doing my job right. Like that was such a great encouraging moment and inspiring to me, hearing her say how deeply those kinds of images fit. You know, that we have representation.
Sonia: And Daniel, you highlighted something in an interview you gave, about mental health and how that was something you noticed with both characters; how quick they were to say that they were fine in certain moments when they clearly were not. I wonder if that was something that you kind of picked up on early or later on in the filming process and how that informed how you played Slim.
Daniel: I think, yeah, when I was mapping out the stuff [Slim] says about himself and stuff he said about others, I was like, oh there’s a thing here that kind of like, he’s navigating emotional constipation, which I think a lot of black men have as a product of social conditioning. So, I think that was an interesting thing to put forth and it’s different for him because he’s not made it negative. It’s just that he has trouble with it. Even though he knows what he wants, he knows what he’s about, he has trouble
feeling… Do you know what I’m saying? So, I think that’s such an interesting pressure cooker to have in the film. It’s just his internal… not understanding his emotions. I mean, one could use christianity as a kind of moral compass, but when life stops making sense, then all you have is your feelings and your emotions and that’s just chaos and he’s just
navigating that circus within himself. So, in the film when it happens and [Queen] asks, “Are you okay?” and he’s like, “Yeah”, he’s not, he can’t be. But he’s been conditioned to say [everything’s] fine, even though he’s paralysed, to an extent, in terms of decision-making and Queen has to make the decisions for the both of them.
Sonia: You have a character that starts off incredibly normal in terms of what he wants, in terms of the things he aspires to, staying in Cleveland, starting a family… He seems very uncomplicated. Is it easier to play this kind of character, who is so content in what they have, and what they want, as opposed to a character who is more complicated or experiences greater internal conflict?
Daniel: I think it’s easier to play someone that’s reaching… because there’s a forward momentum. They’re actually a driver in their scene. But I think someone that doesn’t want to drive anywhere and wants to chill, it’s really hard to make that dynamic, for an audience and for the other person in the scene. And [Slim] is very much a passenger, Queen is the
driver for the majority of the film and so it’s trying to find the conflict within himself.
Sonia: So before I go, Melina, I want to talk about the moment between Queen and the white police officer, at the end. It got me thinking about white feminism versus inclusive feminism. Was that something you had in mind when you made that decision to have the [SPOILER ALERT] the white female officer be the one to pull the trigger on Queen?
Melina: Yeah absolutely. We definitely wanted to speak to white feminism, to white feminists not always standing hand in hand with black sisters, not understanding our experiences and differences from them. We also wanted to speak to the majority of white women voting for Trump and picking their bigotry over their friendship with us as sisters, their bigotry over their gender. And so, that was really important. And also, we wanted
to represent truth and there have been a lot of white police officers, white women police officers, who have killed black men as well. You know, Botham Jean was just killed in his home by a white woman because she was scared, you know, of this man’s complexion. So, we wanted to represent that as well and not just have it be about the white man but about
how racism affects all of us regardless of colour or gender.