Queen & Slim: meet Melina Matsoukas, director of the new movie written by Lena Waithe

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Having created videos for Beyoncé and Rihanna, director Melina Matsoukas, director of new movie Queen and Slim talks to Stylist about her majestic silver-screen debut.

The first great film of 2020 has been crowned and – awards season be damned – it’s made by a woman. The first film from music video director Melina Matsoukas, Queen & Slim follows a young couple (Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya) on their first date as they are forced to go on the run after an altercation with a police officer. 

When a clip of the clash goes viral, the pair become symbols of the pain black people are suffering in the US. Coming on like a Beyoncé and Jay-Z collab – no surprise since Matsoukas was behind iconic music videos including Beyoncé’s Formation– Queen & Slim pays homage to black America.

Melina Matsoukas director in white suit
Before her foray into film. Melina Matsoukas made award-winning music videos.

Why did you want to tell this particular story?

The script by [Emmy-winning screenwriter] Lena Waithe was political, it challenged so many ideas about racism in the US. It was also this beautiful love story about the connection between two black people that we hadn’t seen before.

While on the run, the couple divides opinion. Which side did you want the audience to be on? 

I wanted the audience to come to it with their own history and baggage. I also wanted to create empathy for people of colour. I wanted to create the experience of being pulled over by the police and not knowing if you’ll live or not. That is a reality of our daily existence.

Queen is an empowered black woman. Did working with women like Rihanna and Beyoncé inspire you when making this film?

My career was carved out by black women. They were the ones who took chances on me when no one else did, starting with Beyoncé. It’s been my honour to represent black women on screen because I believe we’re queens.

How did you choose the brilliant soundtrack?

I wanted to show myriad black voices and bring out the sounds of the locales Queen and Slim travel through. When we get to New Orleans, you hear the local sound, bounce, and in Mississippi it’s the blues. And we have the legendary Lauryn Hill take us home at the end of the ride.

Queen & Slim is in cinemas from 31 January

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