Universal Pictures hosted an exclusive preview event at Essence Festival Saturday to screen the first twelve minutes of “Queen & Slim,” the hotly anticipated film written by Lena Waithe and directed by Melina Matsoukas, known for her visionary work with Beyoncé (“Lemonade,” “Formation”) and “Insecure.”
Held at the historic Gallier Hall in New Orleans, the choice attendees were greeted outside the event by a model of the white Honda featured in the film, with giant bouquets overflowing from its hood, windows and trunk, providing a perfect backdrop for Matsoukas to pose with friends as guests were treated to specialty cocktails and hors d’oeuvres while feasting their eyes on giant portraits of the props and set from the film, all similarly flanked by enormous floral arrangements.
The film stars Daniel Kaluuya as Slim, depicted in the opening scene as naïve and imbued with spirituality in contrast to Queen, remarkably played by Jodie Turner-Smith, who’ll make her feature film debut in the project as a criminal defense lawyer on the run with her date after the pair have a treacherous traffic stop turn deadly — for the cop. Where Slim is hesitant, Queen is direct and the unlikely couple’s first encounter drew audible reactions, including laughter, gasps and applause from the audience, which included actress Yara Shahidi, fashion icon Dapper Dan and actor Kendrick Sampson.
During a post-screening discussion with Waithe (pictured above at left) and moderator Melody Ehsani (center), Matsoukas (right) revealed she was drawn to “Queen & Slim” for a number of reasons.
“For me it was about black love,” Matsoukas told the audience. “I’m about unity and bringing folks together and showing all our different voices in front of the camera and behind it… In all of my work I try to challenge the status quo. I try to change things and I try to make things that are going to create a conversation and be political and be a form of protest art and also entertain. I feel like if we enjoy going to this experience and watching it then it will affect the most people that we can . So when I read the script this was the best choice and a combination of all of those things and I knew I had to tell it.”
Waithe spoke about the origins of the film, “the nugget” of which she revealed came from an original idea by James Frey (“A Million Little Pieces,” “Katerina”), saying she felt it was her destiny to tell the tale.
“I’m a person that yeah I love “Bonnie & Clyde” and “Thelma & Louise” but I am also a person that really loves “Set It Off,” Waithe told Ehsani during the panel discussion. “I’m also a person who really appreciated films like that where our backs are against the wall and it’s like ‘What are we going to do to survive? Because I believe black people don’t really live, we survive.”
Queen & Slim arrives in theaters on Nov. 27.
Elsewhere at ESSENCE Festival, Motown Records gathered a group of female business leaders in New Orleans over Fourth of July weekend for a VIP brunch and panel discussion titled “Leading Ladies: A conversation about finding your voice.” Held during the annual ESSENCE Festival, the fireside chat was moderated by Nilka Thomas, VP of talent and inclusion for Lyft, and featured Motown president and Capitol Music Group (CMG) executive vice president Ethiopia Habtemariam; Valerie Jarrett, a member of the Lyft Board of Directors and former senior advisor to Barack Obama; and Amber Grimes, senior VP of CMG.
From left: Nilka Thomas, Ethiopia Habtemariam, Valerie Jarrett, Amber Grimes