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Lena Waithe tells Stephen Colbert about the vital need for "protest art" like Queen & Slim

Lena Waithe, Stephen Colbert
Screenshot: The Late Show

Lena Waithe had to agree with Stephen Colbert that she’s one of busiest people in show business these days. On Friday’s Late Show, Colbert ran down Emmy-winner Waithe’s slate—writer-creator of at least four TV shows, plus she’s in the next season of Westworld, possibly as a robot—before getting to Waithe’s most recent high profile gig, writing the screenplay for the upcoming Daniel Kaluuya-Jodie Turner Smith drama Queen & Slim. Oh, and she just got married to longtime partner Alana Mayo. Or, as Waithe put it, showing off her wedding band, “Yeah, got some jewelry.”

Colbert then asked Waithe about “protest art,” her chosen term for what genre Queen & Slim belongs to, with Waithe first explaining that that represents “any art that really reflects the time.” Specifically, in the case of her story about a young black man and woman who go on the run after killing a police officer in self-defense, Waithe described her mission with the film, bluntly, as to “humanize black people so much that, maybe, they’ll stop killing us.” Waithe also shared that the original plot for Queen & Slim came from credited “story by” co-writer, the A Million Little Pieces author, James Frey, who approached Waithe at a party with an idea for a story he said he couldn’t write. “You’re right, you can’t write that,” Waithe says she told noted Oprah nemesis and white guy, “But I can.” Amplifying her take on the film’s message about overcoming white America’s too-often violent fear of black people, Waithe used the stark metaphor of being held at gunpoint and telling the gunman personal facts about yourself to keep him from pulling the trigger.

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Heavy stuff. But Colbert, as is his way, found the strategy to end their interview on a lighter, goofier note. Having been briefed on Waithe’s movie-identifying prowess when she worked at Blockbuster Video (kids—it was something called a “video store,” and they were awesome, although not Blockbuster specifically), Colbert brought along some of the sketchiest descriptions of movies his confused customer barely remembered, and the happily game Waithe knocked them right out of the park. (Especially impressive was how quickly she nailed “William Holden plus AAAARRRGGGGG!”) And, sure, she got momentarily stumped by Colbert’s description of “a series of very long movies about very short people trying to get rid of some jewelry,” but then she remembered a recently aired Colbert bit—and who she was talking to.

Queen & Slim opens November 27.

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Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.