Andre D. Wagner/Universal Pictures

Queen & Slim team on their mission to honor victims of police brutality: 'We were on hallowed ground'

November 27, 2019 at 09:30 AM EST

Queen & Slim is unlike any other film out this year. It’s a thriller, a “beautiful black love story,” a road trip movie, “protest art,” a horror film, and so much more. And for all involved, it was their own rebellion.

Hailing from writer Lena Waithe (The Chi) and director Melina Matsoukas (Insecure, Beyoncé’s “Formation”), Queen & Slim follows a black man (Daniel Kaluuya) and woman (Jodie Turner-Smith) whose unmemorable first date turns into a nightmare when they’re forced to go on the run after killing a white cop in self-defense. As they seek refuge, they fall in love and become the start of a movement.

Ahead of the film’s release, Waithe, Matsoukas, Kaluuya, and Turner-Smith had an extensive conversation about its origins and importance on EW’s Around the Table series (watch the full video below).

“One of the special things about the movie is that it was sort of born out of the black renaissance in which we’re living in right now,” says Waithe, adding that she was inspired by “the trauma of being black in America,” and being in love. “It’s a rebel cry, but also, I was feeling a sense of trauma from watching the news, and I think when people hear about black people being killed by cops, they know that it’s sad, they know that it’s not right, but as a black person, there’s no there to hold my hand. There’s no one there to rub my back and tell me that I’m okay, that we’re going to be okay.”

Coming off an incredible early career run with Get Out, Black Panther, and Widows, Kaluuya was determined to be Slim. And while Waithe says that in her “lack of imagination” she wouldn’t have thought of him and Matsoukas admits that she couldn’t originally separate him from his Get Out character, Kaluuya eventually won them both over. “I connected to Slim because I’ve been in that situation, especially with the police, where it’s out of control but you’re trying to do your best,” the Oscar-nominated actor says. “If you respect yourself, that’s a problem. It’s when oppression is so visceral. If I believe in me, that’s a problem for you.”

Universal Pictures

For Queen, Matsoukas says it was “really important that we use this opportunity to break a new black actress,” since “it’s an opportunity we don’t all get.” Through a long casting process, they landed on Turner-Smith, a model-turned-actress best known for TNT’s The Last Ship. “This project changed my life,” Turner- Smith says. “There was so much reality in it, of just this is the experience of being a black woman. That I know, already, in my bones. I don’t even have to go and look at a source for this.”

The stars and creative team didn’t need a source for this trauma, having all lived it in their own way, but one real-life tragedy specifically found its way into the process. “It was about looking at a lot of this black horror that we see,” says Turner-Smith. “I watched the Sandra Bland documentary and her tape itself over and over and over and over again, and just the reality of that, the fear in that.”

Kaluuya further reveals that he and Turner-Smith watched the infamous Bland traffic stop video in the car before they filmed their own version of that moment. “There were so many obstacles on the set and I always say, I feel like it had to be that,” Matsoukas says. “It had to be hard shoot, because we were honoring all these people whose lives were taken because of police brutality.”

Adds Waithe: “We were on hallowed ground.”

Queen & Slim is now in theaters.

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