Writer and actor Lena Waithe joined forces with director Melina Matsoukas on the film Queen & Slim. The full-length feature, which stars the effervescent Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Widows) and Jodie Turner-Smith (Nightflyers), tells the story of a first date gone horribly wrong that leads to a nationwide manhunt. Just days after the 2020 Golden Globes nominees were announced, Matsoukas is speaking up about what she calls Hollywood's "archaic system."
Titles including The Irishman and Joker locked down many of the nominations across categories. However, it was obvious to all that this year's Golden Globes is slated to be the whitest and the most male-dominated that it has ever been. And if you ask Matsoukas, who wasn't at all surprised to learn that her film Queen & Slim had also been excluded from the honours, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) is to blame.
The organisation is made up of almost 100 journalists and, every year, members of the HFPA cast their votes for the Golden Globes. Matsoukas says that Queen & Slim didn't stand a fair shot from the jump, saying many of the HFPA members opted out of the three different screenings of the film provided to them.
“It’s extremely discouraging. It’s extremely infuriating," said Matsoukas in conversation with Variety. "And it just represents an archaic system that is full of people who don’t value us.”
Queen & Slim, which will be released in the UK in January, garnered mixed reactions from Black film critics and audiences alike. Viewers were torn by the movie's intense imagery and its controversial final scene dividing the audience into two factions: those who loved it and those who were pained by it. Mixed feelings aside, Queen & Slim is a fubu film. From its stunning soundtrack to its thoughtful costume design, the movie was created by people with Black people in mind. Is it possible, then, that HFPA was turned off by the production's insuppressible Blackness as well as the fact that a woman directed it? Matsoukas certainly thinks so.
"For me, it’s reflective of their voting body. It’s not reflective of the society in which we live in or the industry as it stands today," the "Formation" director reasoned. "They don’t value the stories that represent all of us, and those stories are so often disregarded and discredited, as are their filmmakers.”
Queen & Slim marks Matsoukas's first foray into filmmaking (she made her name directing artistic videos for heavyweight artists), and she's one of the many victims in Hollywood's long history of ignoring female directors (especially Black and brown female directors). Given this year's vast array of powerful, female-driven productions, the 2020 Oscar race should be far more diverse. Greta Gerwig's star-packed Little Women was ignored, as were DuVernay's critically-acclaimed Netflix series When They See Us and Lulu Wang's The Farewell. It's clear: Hollywood still very much has a representation problem.
Matsoukas believes that the industry can change, but it's going to take a massive structural shift for equity to be achieved. "I’m always going to be hopeful because that’s who I am, but I don’t have a lot of faith in any institutions in this country because they have always discredited and disregarded work by women and people of colour."
The director is calling for the current body of voters in Hollywood to be scrapped in exchange for a group that is more reflective of the world that we live in. There's more proper representation onscreen now than ever before, and the people awarding these projects have to mirror that.