Attendees of an Atlanta screening of Queen & Slim were in for a huge surprise last night. Highlighting the role that music plays in the film (out Nov. 27), the screening, hosted by Spotify and Motown, featured live performances from artists featured on the soundtrack, including a 7-song set from Ms. Lauryn Hill.
Director Melina Matsoukas introduced the singer to the Woodruff Arts Center stage with a touching speech that thanked Hill for her contribution to the film. “I am so grateful to you as [you] made my first feature film complete,” she said, adding that Hill’s music was her “holy grail” when she was working on the film.
Performing on a stage in between two screens that showed behind-the-scenes shots of Matsoukas and producer/writer Lena Waithe creating Queen & Slim, Hill’s set included a performance of “Guarding the Gates” from the soundtrack. It’s her first original song she’s released since “Black Rage,” a song dedicated to protestors in Ferguson, in 2014.
During her performance, Hill said the song was inspired by a desire to respect African Americans’ long history of trauma, as well as their rich history of beauty. “It’s time for our voices to be heard, but also, it’s a time for us to process,” she said. Hill also performed renditions of “Lost Ones,” “Everything is Everything,” “Doo Wop (That Thing)” and “Ex Factor” from her only solo album, the critically acclaimed The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, as well as Fugee songs “Fu-Gee-La” and “Killing Me Softly.”
Ahead of Hill’s set, The-Dream performed “Cedes Benz,” a previously unreleased song he says Matsoukas asked to use in the film after he first played it for her in 2013, and “Fancy,” a fan favorite from the singer and producer’s discography. Moses Sumney also sang the hauntingly mournful “Doomed,” and Tiana Major9 performed “Collide” sans Earthgang. Major9, who was celebrating her birthday last night, said it was a blessing to be a part of an “iconic piece of black history.”
Queen & Slim: The Soundtrack was executive produced by Motown president Ethiopia Habtemariam, who joined Quality Control’s Coach K, Spotify’s Chaka Zulu and Matsoukas on stage for a conversation after the screening of the film. Habtemariam and Matsoukas said they were inspired by soundtracks for films such as Love Jones, Boomerang, Love & Basketball and The Nutty Professor when working on the project. Habtemariam called working on the soundtrack one of the proudest moments of her career.
Zulu said the screening was the only one that featured a heavy music component. Coach K said he’d already seen Queen & Slim six times and encouraged the audience — which featured music executives and former Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed — to purchase tickets and support the film. He said he plans to buy out theaters so that college kids can also watch the film.
Matsoukas, of course, is no stranger to music. In addition to directing episodes of Insecure, she’s directed music videos such as Beyonce’s “Formation.” In Queen & Slim, she uses music to show the range of black experience throughout the country as the lead couple (played by Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith) go on the run following a fatal encounter with a racist police officer. From playing blues in Mississippi to bounce in New Orleans, the soundtrack helps viewers experience the small joys and overarching anxieties that the couple feels as they attempt to escape capture.