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Lena Waithe on new film: I hope Trump tweets about it

Melody Hahm
Senior Writer
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 22: (L-R) Lena Waithe and Melina Matsoukas speak onstage during 'V.F. Sneak Peek: "Queen & Slim"' at Vanity Fair's 6th Annual New Establishment Summit at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on October 22, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)

A white police officer shoots at a young black woman, then her love interest kills the cop in self-defense.

The upcoming romantic thriller “Queen and Slim” depicts a black couple on the run after taking justice into their own hands.

In the trailer, Uncle Earl says, “Isn’t it the black Bonnie and Clyde?” addressing the trope that comes to mind. The multi-talented Lena Waithe wrote the film and delivers a controversial perspective, which she says is precisely the point.

"I hope the president tweets about [the movie]. You’re not doing your job if this particular president isn’t upset with you," Waithe said at Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit on Tuesday.

Waithe, who created “The Chi” on Showtime, is best known for her role as Denise, Aziz Ansari’s best friend, in Netflix’s “Master of None.” She also wrote the show’s eighth episode in the second season, “Thanksgiving,” in which her character comes out as a lesbian over 30 years, much of it reflecting her own life. The episode won an Emmy for outstanding writing for a comedy series, making Waithe the first black woman to win the award.

Waithe felt an urgency to write a movie about police brutality facing black Americans every day. Many still feel like second-class citizens, she added. “It’s open season on black bodies.” She considers black photojournalist Gordon Parks, who is known for documenting civil rights movements from the 1940s through the 1970s, one of her greatest inspirations. “I want to be a writer version of him. I want to capture what it’s like to be black.”

‘Victors, not victims’

Still, instead of taking a tone of sadness and despondency, Waithe wanted to empower the characters. Slim is portrayed by Daniel Kaluuya, who starred in the thriller “Get Out,” and breakout star Jodie Turner-Smith plays the role of Queen.

“I wanted to portray black people as victors, not victims,” said Melina Matsoukas, the Grammy Award-winning director behind iconic music videos like Beyonce’s “Formation” and Rihanna and Calvin Harris’s “We Found Love.” She also directed the “Thanksgiving” episode.

Waithe had a few non-negotiables for the film: Matsoukas had to direct it, they had to shoot and release it within the same year, and she would not take any notes from an executive that “doesn’t look like us.”

49th NAACP Image Awards – Show – Pasadena, California, U.S., 15/01/2018 – Daniel Kaluuya wins the Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture award for "Get Out." REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

“My script is something that I knew was undeniable. Black audiences have said to us, ‘This hits different. This feels different’ [during screenings]. We’re not catering to a white audience. There is no form of the white gaze at all. This is our version of what we feel like when we’re watching white films... we have to sit through those films all the time,” she said.

When asked whether such a laser sharp (if not narrow) point of view will deliver on a national level, Waithe said, “Black folks are going to show up but everyone else will too. Because they’ll ask, ‘What’s all that fuss about?’ We’re rebels, we’re artists. And they’ll have no choice but to step back and take notice.”

It’s indisputable that the black gaze is getting more commercial recognition and success. “Black Panther” (DIS) crossed the $1 billion mark at the box office in just 26 days, and “Get Out” became the highest grossing movie for a feature debut of an original screenplay in 2017. Black directors made 16 of the top 100 films of 2018, backing Waithe’s thesis.

After speaking with Fox Searchlight, Lionsgate, and A24, among others, “Queen and Slim” ultimately decided to partner with Universal Pictures to distribute the film, which had a budget of approximately $20 million. The movie will be released nationwide on November 27, Thanksgiving Day.

Melody Hahm is a senior correspondent at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and culture. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.

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