‘The problem still exists’: Queen and Slim a modern-day call to arms
By Richard Jinman
It is 30 years since Spike Lee’s incendiary third movie Do The Right Thing shone a harsh light on the killing of black Americans by police. Radio Raheem, who is choked to death in the film’s climatic scene, was a fictional character, but his violent death at the hands of baton-wielding cops felt very real in a country where African Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white people.
Little has changed in the three decades since Lee released his call to arms, says Lena Waithe, the writer and producer of Queen and Slim, a provocative new film about two black Americans who go on the run after killing a white police officer in self-defence. She regards Do The Right Thing as a landmark movie and says the issues it highlighted in 1989 are far from resolved. “We can’t deny that we are still dealing with these things,” says the 35-year-old, who is best known as one of the stars of the Netflix comedy-drama Master of None. “The fact that law enforcement is not necessarily on our side and we feel like we are being hunted is both scary and sad. Black people are still making movies about this problem because the problem still exists.”
Melina Matsoukas, the director of Queen and Slim, nods in agreement. “It’s modern-day lynching,” she says quietly. “As a black person, seeing your family, your community being murdered on a daily basis has an emotional impact. It’s like PTSD. It could be your mother, your sister, your father, your aunt, your husband or your wife. Seeing these people that you don’t know, but have a kinship with, [being killed] on the nightly news, creates an emotional stress.”
The frequency with which black people are killed by police and the apparent impunity the US judicial system grants officers who kill in the line of duty, led to the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013. But the bloodshed continues. In 2015 a record number of young black men – 1134 in total – were killed by law enforcement officers.