Director Melina Matsoukas didn’t set her alarm for the Golden Globes announcement — she didn’t bother. When she woke up on Dec. 9 to the news that her movie, “Queen & Slim,” a powerful drama about a young black couple forced to go on the run after a fatal encounter with a racist cop, hadn’t received a single nomination, she wasn’t surprised.
She’d already been warned by her team that the membership of Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., comprised of about 90 international journalists who vote on the Golden Globes, had skipped multiple screenings of “Queen & Slim” that had been set for them.
“We held three screenings for the HPFA and almost no members attended,” Matsoukas told Variety. “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. They don’t value the stories that represent all of us, and those stories are so often disregarded and discredited, as are their filmmakers.”
She added: “It’s extremely discouraging. It’s extremely infuriating. And it just represents an archaic system that is full of people who don’t value us.”
“Queen & Slim,” written and produced by Lena Waithe, stars Daniel Kaluuya (the Oscar-nominated actor from “Get Out”) and Jodie Turner-Smith. The film has grossed nearly $30 million at the domestic box office, outperforming analyst expectations.
A representative for the HPFA disputes the claim that members didn’t watch the film. All voters had been sent screeners and could have seen it at home. “The HFPA maintains that ‘Queen & Slim’ was in the conversation amongst the membership,” the organization told Variety in a statement.
Universal Pictures, which distributed the movie, declined to comment.
The Golden Globes encountered an avalanche of criticism this week for not nominating a single female director or screenwriter. This omission was particularly glaring given that it’s been a banner year for female filmmakers. Among those who failed to make onto the Globes’ list were Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”), Lulu Wang (“The Farewell”), Kasi Lemmons (“Harriet”), Lorene Scafaria (“Hustlers”), Marielle Heller (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”) and Alma Har’el (“Honey Boy”).
“Queen & Slim” is a story told uniquely through the lens of the female gaze. While the movie is Matsoukas’ first feature, the 38-year-old storyteller has spent the last decade as a Grammy-winning director of music videos from Beyoncé (“Formation”), Lady Gaga (“Just Dance”), Jennifer Lopez (“I’m Into You”) and Rihanna (“We Found Love”), specializing in tropes that convey female empowerment.
Sources tell Variety that Universal Pictures tried to cajole the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press into seeing “Queen & Slim.” But after three different screenings, only a few HFPA voters had attended — one source puts the number at four — despite “Queen & Slim’s” strong reviews. Matsoukas earned a graduate degree from the American Film Institute Conservatory, and “Queen & Slim” had its world premiere at the annual AFI Fest. In June, the director was awarded AFI’s Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal, which honors creators who embody “talent, taste, dedication, and commitment to quality storytelling in film and television.”
Another source with knowledge of the studio’s awards campaign notes that more than 60,000 individual DVDs were made and sent to various guilds and journalists, including the HPFA. It’s possible that some Globes voters watched the movie at home, although studios can usually find out how the HFPA is responding to their movies by polling members. As a result of what Universal believed to be a lack of interest in “Queen & Slim,” the studio cancelled a scheduled Globes press conference for Nov. 16. According to those familiar with the studio’s process, the feeling was that there was no reason to ask the cast to talk about the movie since they didn’t think voters had seen it.
Not every movie screened for the HFPA has a press conference, a lengthy rite of passage for prestige movies that involves some questions from members — and more selfies and schmoozy moments with them. But Golden Globes nominations are valuable. Not only do they serve as a springboard to the Oscars, they can help a movie’s profits and boost a young director’s career and salary on future projects.
When asked what message she’d share with HPFA members, Matsoukas responded: “Your time is over. I believe they’ve created an unsafe work environment.”
Matsoukas then described an experience she had earlier this year, while attending a HFPA fundraiser before she’d finished the final cut of her movie. It was an event that she’d entered into with some trepidation.
“I was warned by three different people that I may be harassed or spoken to in an inappropriate way, which I was,” she said.
As she recalls, an HFPA member, whom she declines to name, approached her with a movie idea. “And they used a very archaic term in the pitch, and I found it quite offensive and disrespectful to me as a woman of color,” she said.
Matsoukas said she’s decided to speak out because she hopes ongoing dialogue will bring about change in an industry that still doesn’t represent the diversity of moviegoers. She grew up on the films of Spike Lee, Mira Nair and Pedro Almodovar, filmmakers with unfiltered visions about the human experience.
Matsoukas doesn’t expect for the Oscar nominations next month to correct the gender parity that’s missing at the Golden Globes. In the past 91 years, only five women have been nominated for best directing at the Academy Awards.
“I think there’s an extremely long way to go,” she said. “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 color. The fact that five women have ever been nominated for directing in the lifetime of the Academy is infuriating. It’s obviously very imbalanced. Until the body of the people voting on the projects reflects our society and the people making these projects, there will be no change.”
Matt Donnelly contributed to this story.