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Queen & Slim's Lena Waithe & Melina Matsoukas on Tragedy, Violence & Power in Hollywood

Editor's Note: This interview contains spoilers for Queen & Slim and also discusses police brutality, violence and sexual assault.

“Art is supposed to disrupt.” Melina Matsoukas tells me during our conversation. Matsoukas and her collaborator, writer Lena Waithe, share a couch opposite me in a fancy London hotel. They’re both dressed impeccably. Matsoukas, who’s directed music videos for Beyoncé, Solange and Rihanna, is wearing colours only the most fearless among us would couple up. The Grammy Award winner is pulling the look off with aplomb. Waithe’s hair is shorn low and her pink tracksuit is a pleasing pink blush. They complement each other aesthetically but also by finishing each other’s sentences. Theirs is a sisterhood honed through their work, first on Waithe’s Emmy Award Winning episode of the Netflix series Master of None and now on their polarising, debut feature Queen & Slim. 

Before I sit with Waithe and Matsoukas, I’ve already seen their film twice. Matsoukas’ direction pulls you in, using colour with irreverence to create intimacy between the audience and the film’s subjects. She dares you to take your eyes off the screen during their ill-fated adventure and then wins- because you don’t want to miss even a second of Daniel Kaluuya and newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith performances. And these are performances you need to see so you can come to your own conclusions about what this film means to you, what it wants you to take away about black love and black life. 

The first time I see Queen & Slim, I fall from my seat during the film’s final act and cry uncontrollably on the floor. My girlfriends try to comfort me, but I am bereft. The second time, I close my eyes and hold my best friend’s hand. I jump as the first of the gunshots ring out and I keep my eyes closed so I don’t have to see the bodies of this beautiful, brave, dark skin couple riddled with bullets. I wonder why I am doing this to myself because even with my eyes closed, I still see them. I am not desensitised to violence. This is especially true when the sites of said violence are bodies that look like mine. “I'm not gonna make it easy for black people.” Waithe is definitive when I ask who it serves to see that violence. I am taken aback by the carelessness.