Lena Waithe – Making Urgent Art About the Black Experience with “Queen & Slim” | The Daily Show

Lena Waithe – Making Urgent Art About the Black Experience with “Queen & Slim” | The Daily Show


-Welcome, Lena Waithe.
-Hey, I love you back. -Whaddup?
-Um… I have been a fan of yours
for such a long time, but there is an additional
element of my fandom that has, like, increased
over the past few years. -And that has been your drip.
-Okay. Everything that you wear. Like, you have become one of
the most stylish individuals. Did you just decide one day,
you were just like, “You know what? I’m just gonna,
I’m just gonna…” -Gonna stunt? -“I’m gonna stunt
on everybody.” -Um, yeah. I think it was a…
-(laughter) I think it was
a Thursday morning. I just said,
“No. This all stops. “Stylish, black, lesbian,
masculine-presenting, we’re gonna shut it down
and change the world.” That’s exactly what you’ve done. That’s what we’re gonna do. That’s exactly what you’ve done. Um… And you’re-you’re not just doing
it with the way you dress. You are doing it with the things
that you create. Queen & Slim, I truly– I-I’m not blowing smoke
up your ass at all– I truly have watched few films that engaged me in the way
this movie does. -It’s a powerful story.
-Mm. Like, I-I often say, like, the
trailer doesn’t do it justice, ’cause in the trailer,
it just seems like a story -where there’s a couple that
is out on a date, -Mm-hmm. -and then they get stopped
by a cop. -Right. -The stop goes very wrong,
-Right. and the guy, as we saw, Daniel Kaluuya’s character
shoots the cop, -and then they’re on the run.
-Right. But it’s a complex story. How did you even begin
to write a story like this? Why would you choose to do that,
especially considering how real the story is
in today’s world? Um, you know,
it’s so interesting. You know, Nina Simone says it is an artist’s duty
to reflect the times. And these are the times
in which we’re living. It is open season
on black bodies. And what I wanted to do…
You know, there’s a study that says if you’re ever being
held up at gunpoint, you should tell them
personal things about yourself. You should say,
“I have a child.” You should say, “My mother is,
you know, on her deathbed, and I want to see her go.”
All those things. Because what happens is the
gunman now empathizes with you -and now sees you as a human.
-Oh. It makes it more difficult
for them to kill you. So I think with my art,
I’m wondering if I can humanize
black people enough, maybe they’ll stop killing us. -It’s…
-(applause) It’s-it’s a powerful story
for me because, you know,
on the surface, a lot of people will think it’s a story
about black and white, -but it’s not a story
about black and white. -Right. Like, you don’t walk away
from this movie going, -“Oh, I’m angry
at white people.” -Right. You’re like,
“No, I’m angry at the system -that black people
are exposed to.” -Absolutely. You know, like, there are
white heroes in this movie. They’re not centered,
but there’s, like, white people who are, like, trying to help.
There’s allies. -Right. -There’s-there’s
so many complex layers to this. -Why… Right. -And it’s not
an anti-cop movie, either. It’s not anti-cop, either,
which is really interesting. Like, like, why
was that important to you to show so many different layers not just of, like,
Americans of different races -but even different types
of black people? -Right. Because I think there’s no
such thing as black and white. You know,
there’s so many shades of gray. Um, just the way, like, not
all black people are a monolith, not all cops are the same. They wear the same uniform,
you know, so what that uniform
represents to black people is-is very different,
you know, in that… It’s very interesting
because as a young person, you grow up, and you see videos
of the civil rights movement. And you see
young black students, you know,
who are smart and interesting -doing sit-ins and protesting.
-Mm-hmm. They’re being…
Like, dogs are sicced on them. Fire hoses. Like, batons. And those are police officers
doing that to them. -Right.
-And then the next day, they bring a police officer
into the classroom that says, “This is your friend, kids. So if you ever need help,
you call on a police officer.” So as a young black person, it was very confusing to me. And then now imagine being
a young black person where you see on the news
black people being killed in their homes
by police officers. So this-this relationship
between police and particularly
the black community has been fraught
since the beginning of time. -Right.
-And-and right now I just feel like
it’s-it’s an epidemic, and no one’s doing anything
about it. And I think, to me, the idea
of flipping the narrative in that what happens is
not the black person gets killed and we mourn them
and have that story, but what happens
if they stop saying, “Okay, yeah, you can kill me”? What happens if they stand up
and say, “No, I’m gonna live. I’m gonna survive”? And how that narrative
might make people uncomfortable. But that’s the narrative
I’m putting in front of people, because that’s my job
as an artist. It is– it is uncomfortable,
but, at the same time, it-it captured a complexity
that I-I truly always enjoy in any storytelling,
and that is the complexity -of black joy and black pain.
You know? -Absolutely. Because I-I often say to people,
you know, like-like, people will say,
like, even on The Daily Show, of anything, they’ll be like,
“Oh, but, as black people, like, how do you laugh?
How do you this?” And I’m like,
“Well, black people can’t wait -for everything to be right
to laugh.” -Absolutely. You know what I mean?
If black people were like, “We’ll laugh
when things are perfect,” -black people will never laugh.
-Absolutely. -Do you know what I’m saying?
And in this film, it’s– -Yeah. That’s-that’s what I w–
I want everyone to know about this movie, for me,
I’ve-I’ve been in a few movies where, one moment,
you are shocked and crying and then, the next moment,
you are laughing so hard but, like, a real laugh.
It’s, like, real joy. It’s-it’s–
It is, as you say, the grays. It’s not just black and white.
It’s not just a movie about, -like, black people are
suffering. It’s like, -Right. -no, black people
are human beings. -Right. This is what they experience.
And joy is part -of what they experience.
-Absolutely. The movie, to me, is a meditation on blackness. It’s a love letter
to black people, in that, even in the midst
of oppression, we find joy. Because we don’t have a choice. You know, we live in a world
where we’re still treated like second-class citizens, even
though we’re walking on land that our ancestors helped build
for free. And so that is also
a very weird dichotomy. It’s sort of like we should be
treated like royalty in this country,
but it’s the opposite. And-and, you know–
and I think, for me, the movie is something
that everyone can come see because everyone
should come experience what the world is like
through our lens, you know? And-and we had final cut
on this film. Everything you see– every look,
every word, every glance– was a purposeful decision
made by myself and Melina. We didn’t take any notes
from white people on this one. -There’s no white gaze.
-(cheering and applause) Um, and I think that’s why
it’s hitting different. You know? Because– And there’s
also this weird narrative, like, “Oh, how difficult was it for
y’all to get this movie made?” Man, the-the industry chased us. We were like Jesus Shuttlesworth
in He Got Game. They were, like,
rolling out the red carpet. “What do you need? Da-da-da-da.” And I was like,
“I will need final cut. “I want a fat budget. I want
to shoot it and release it “in the same year,
’cause this art is urgent. “And I want to break
a new actress, and she has
to be brown-skinned.” -(cheering and applause)
-Let’s-let’s talk about that. -Let’s talk about that
before you leave. -Right. You know, um, Melina Matsoukas,
who-who… -Phenomenal. The phenomenal
Melina Matsoukas. -…who is an amazing filmmaker.
A lot of people know her work because of the Beyoncé music
video, you know, in Lemonade. She did “Formation” and all
that kind of stuff. Insecure. And people loved her work
and the way she-she displays -not just the art
but black skin. -Yeah. And I mean, only
in the most recent years people have realized, oh,
a light of lighting people in Hollywood don’t know how
to light the different tones of black skin,
especially dark black skin. In this movie,
you’ve chosen your leads, -it seems very specifically.
-Absolutely. You have dark-skinned black
people, who you don’t often see -leading films.
-Absolutely. You also have so many
different shades of black. And the way it’s lit
is beautiful. It’s, like, playing
with all the tones. Why was that important for you? It was important because
I think it’s something we don’t see, and… it was also important to see
these two brown-skinned bodies make love on screen. Because there’s nothing
more human than making love. And when’s the last time you saw two brown bodies
make love on celluloid? I can’t remember. And we wanted to put
that out there because again, it’s reminding
people how human we are. And it may seem crazy, but there has to be
some disconnect that our black skin
is so scary to people that they’d rather shoot first
and ask questions later. And so, that’s why
I think a microphone is much more powerful
than a grenade. Our-our art tells us who we are. And I wanted this, you know,
the thing about Gordon Parks why he inspires me so much
is because what he did was, he captured America as it was. You know, one of my favorite
photographs of, that he took was little black kids
looking through a fence seeing white kids playing
joy-joyfully on a playground. -Mm-hmm.
-There’s no, nothing, there’s nothing
more American than that. You know, um,
there’s a carefreeness that white people know
that black people will never understand. And those were things
that I really wanted to capture in the film. But at the same time,
there’s a joy– I mean, I love that
James Baldwin said that a black smile
can light up any room. And I believe that. And I wanted to show that
in this movie, as well. You know, this country has
a very complicated past. And I think that’s why this
present is still so complex. And we-we, racism is a wound
that we haven’t healed yet. And I think through my art, I’m
working through that trauma. Because to be black
is beautiful, but it’s also traumatizing. Because you can’t watch the news
and see black bodies drop and nothing happened
to those that are the reason why those black bodies
have dropped. You can’t, if you’re
a black person in America, you’re being told
that you’re life is not as valid
as someone else’s. You captured that in the film. I hope that everyone watches it
with an open mind. I-I-I’ve said to your personally
and I’ll say it again. I think this is
one of those movies where the trailer
can’t tell you the story. The review is how everybody
will feel about it. I hope everybody sees it.
You’ve created a beautiful -work of art.
-Thank you, man. Thank you so much
for being on the show. Thank you, man. Queen & Slim will be in
theaters November 27th. Lena Waithe, everybody.

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