×

Melina Matsoukas and Lena Waithe are on a mission.

The creative collaborators opened the 2019 AFI Fest presented by Audi on Thursday night in Hollywood in a powerful way, with the world premiere of their film “Queen & Slim.”

“I want to promote unity between us. I want this to promote black love and not just romantic love,” Matsoukas, who directed the project, told Variety on the red carpet. “I want people to see what happens when we come together as a community and how that is our greatest weapon against the assault on us.”

Starring Daniel Kaluuya and newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith, “Queen & Slim” follows a young woman and a young man (Turner-Smith and Kaluuya) whose first date takes a deadly turn when they are stopped by a police officer, leading to fatal altercation and sending them on the run for their lives. After collaborating on “Thanksgiving” (the Emmy Award-winning episode of “Master of None”), Waithe and Matsoukas teamed up again for the project, which the pair lovingly refer to as the first “Melina and Lena joint.”

“I didn’t dream this big,” Waithe said, adding that her primary goal as a creator is “to be a real honor to my race. I want to contribute to this world, to this industry. I want to lead by example. And I want to leave this business in better shape than I found it.”

Turner-Smith and Kaluuya find it easy to see why audiences would be drawn to this film.

“It feels very, current. It feels very immediate and that’s testament to the vision and the visuals of Melina. You kind of go, ‘Wow, I haven’t seen it like that. I haven’t seen stuff like that.’ And that speaks to her music video background,” Kaluuya said. “And with Lena’s script, it’s speaking to the audience as opposed to at the audience? And so people feel seen.”

Lazy loaded image
Eric Charbonneau/Shutterstock

“It is a story that nobody has seen before. I think that there’s a hunger for that,” Turner-Smith added. “The fact that it’s about black love, black survival, black resilience and black lives mattering … that also makes it something that people really want to see.”

Waithe and Matsoukas introduced the film in front of a packed house inside the TCL Chinese Theatre — which also included Rihanna, Snoop Dogg, Zendaya, Natalie Portman, Janelle Monáe, 2 Chainz, Justin Simien, Asante Blackk, Kelly Rowland, Tina Knowles, Evan Ross, Tracee Ellis Ross and Turner-Smith’s beau Joshua Jackson. “This film is for us and by us,” Matsoukas began. “But we want the world to experience ‘Queen & Slim,’ because we will never understand each other until we walk in each other’s shoes. So come walk with us, cry with us, experience life through our limbs.”

Of Matsoukas, Waithe told the crowd, “You are my cinema soulmate. … There’s no one else I’d rather go to war with, there’s no one I’d rather turn up with, there’s no one else I’d rather change the world with. Thank you for being a part of my legacy.” Waithe continued, calling for the film to begin and cracking, “Let’s break some box office records — ‘Frozen 2’ about to be number 2.”

“Queen & Slim” is in theaters on Nov. 27.

Lazy loaded image
Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP/Shutterstock