For all of the accolades for the new movie “Queen & Slim” — it’s been called the “Blackest” film of the year — one complaint, in particular, tried to rise above the cheers following an interview with the writer behind the project. The Emmy Award-winning Lena Waithe recently spoke with the Globe & Mail for a Q&A about “Queen & Slim,” which opened on Wednesday to rave reviews.
The Globe & Mail described the conversation as “an in-depth discussion of black language on screen, the power of the black gaze in filmmaking and what it means to create collaborative art that speaks to the reality of being black in America.” But what seemed like a growing number of tweets in response to the interview took apparent umbrage with what was widely taken as a putdown to other Black filmmakers.
Waithe was joined in the interview with Melina Matsoukas, a Grammy-winning director who helmed “Queen & Slim.” When the Globe & Mail asked both women about their traditions of collaborating, the Canadian publication’s first question in the interview. Matsoukas answered first by crediting her co-producer of “Queen & Slim” for being the creative yin to her own yang. But it was Waithe’s answer that raised some eyebrows on Twitter.
Waithe cited Matsoukas’ mixed racial heritage — “she’s black, she’s Greek, she’s Cuban” — as one of the director’s strengths before using that cultural background as a comparison point for what she said makes her so unique as some other stars in show business.
“I think that’s the reason why my voice is so weird and confuses people sometimes because I study Sorkin, Spike Lee, Spike Jonze, and that makes me a little different than a person who only has black influences,” Waithe said.
And while on the surface that quote may seem harmless to many, a lot of other people sounded off on Twitter about what they said was Waithe’s problematic name-dropping of movie writers Aaron Sorkin and Spike Jonez.
The immediate implication to those who were offended was that Waithe suggested that “only” having “black influences” was somehow a weakness. Oh, and the fact that Sorkin and Jonez were not necessarily known for inspiring folks to be unique. So for Waithe to cite those two white men in the context described by the Globe and Mail as “what it means to create collaborative art that speaks to the reality of being black in America” came across as misguided at best and ludicrous at worst.
Others on Twitter took the time to thank Waithe for her hard work on what is sure to be a Hollywood blockbuster.
Either way, more movie directors and writers who are Black women, women of color and just plain women are and have been sorely needed to even out Hollywood’s playing field that has always tilted in favor of white men. But one of the loudest voices in response to “Queen & Slim” after it was released seemed to be this chorus of disapproval over Waithe’s commentary. Scroll down to see some more examples.
Gonna start yelling “I STUDY SORKIN!!!” in public places like the AppleCare lady when I’m feeling indignant 💀 pic.twitter.com/a9PqUfOssX— Clarkisha Kent (@IWriteAllDay_) November 29, 2019
lena waithe after “studying” Aaron Sorkin: pic.twitter.com/w1vx7nBSlk— Chris Cassingham (@CCassingham) November 29, 2019
lena waithe referencing sorkin and spike jonze like they're examples of obscure cinema is honestly hilarious— 𝖒𝖆𝖌𝖎𝖈𝖆𝖑 𝖌𝖎𝖗𝖑 (@sephthedemon) November 29, 2019
Lena Waithe's writing doesn't have the depth and complexity she believes it to lol. All the Aaron Sorkin Masterclasses in the world couldn't remedy that.— Saint (@HafricanGold) November 29, 2019
SORKIN AIN'T EVEN THAT DOPE LMAOOOOO— David Dennis Jr. (@DavidDTSS) November 30, 2019
Lena, talking about the dialogue in her new movie: “we have a broken English, too. That’s what I try to tell people all of the time. I write in the broken English, I love that broken English. It’s a mix of city living, southern living, slavery.”— ashley yates (@brownblaze) November 29, 2019
”I love that broken English.” pic.twitter.com/9g9Yvmj4lR
Lena Waithe wants to be an auteur so badly. pic.twitter.com/IlCRW2K01i— Blackonbothsides (@Biographer1986) November 29, 2019