Melina Matsoukas Talks "Challenging What’s Been Normalized," Authentic Storytelling at Star-Studded 'Queen & Slim' World Premiere

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Jodie Turner-Smith, Melina Matsoukas, Daniel Kaluuya and Lena Waithe

"I bring myself to it in each and every way," the director told The Hollywood Reporter.

On Thursday night, Melina Matsoukas returned to her alma mater to kick off the 2019 AFI Fest with a world premiere screening of her big-screen title, Queen & Slim.
 
The film, penned by Lena Waithe, sees Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith go from complete strangers to devoted lovers on the run after a moment of self-defense leaves a police officer dead. The couple travels from Ohio to Miami to escape retaliation while unwittingly becoming symbols of rebellion and hope. 
 
In Queen & Slim, getting pulled over by the cops launches the hours of action and fear for survival that follow, but for Matsoukas such an experience is far from fiction. Drawing from her own experience of being pulled over along with the murder of Sandra Bland, Matsoukas said that she brings authenticity to the story.
 
"I bring myself to it in each and every way," she told The Hollywood Reporter at the premiere, held at the TCL Chinese Theatre. "I saw so much of myself in Sandra Bland who was pulled over for no reason at all and was literally hunted down and murdered as a result of it."
The director, known for her music videos including Beyoncé’s "Formation," said that she wanted a story that spoke to her for her first feature film. She said that she needed a story that was political, "had something to say and was challenging what’s been normalized."
 
Luckily, Waithe had a story that fit the bill. Matsoukas and Waithe had previously worked together for the Emmy-winning "Thanksgiving" episode of Master of None. The writer told THR  she knew she could trust Matsoukas with her story.
 
"I really just felt like I didn’t know anyone else who could bring what I needed for this one." Waithe told THR on Matsoukas helming the feature film. "We just grabbed each other's hands and never let go."
 
Two black women leading a project about police brutality and injustice against African Americans can affect how such stories come across on screen, Asante Blackk told THR. The When They See Us and This is Us star attended the premiere and said that Waithe and Matsoukas add a layer of care and authenticity to Queen & Slim.
 
"You can do as much research as you want and look all the facts up...but if you don’t truly live that same fear that black people carry around with them every day in America, you can’t truly connect with it on a personal level," he said. 
 
Turner-Smith, the film’s leading lady and breakout star, said that though Queen & Slim encourages conversation about police brutality and racism, it’s a discussion that’s been around for decades. 
 
"Police initially started as a tool to catch slaves, to police black bodies," she told THR. "It’s a conversation that’s so relevant to America every single day."
 
An afterparty at the Hollywood Roosevelt followed the Queen & Slim screening and brought about endearing moments between the stars in attendance. Snoop Dogg and Waithe chatted and exchanged embraces as Matsoukas snapped pictures with producers and castmembers. 
 
Also turning out for Thursday night’s premiere were Janelle Monáe, Rihanna, Tracee Ellis Ross, Natalie Portman, Kelly Rowland and more. 
 
Queen & Slim hits theaters Nov. 27.