In response to the police shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson by a Fort Worth police officer, Queen & Slim film director Melina Matsoukas and its writer Lena Waithe chose to memorialize Jefferson during Elle’s Women in Hollywood Awards.
According to Elle, on Monday evening while addressing the assembled guests, Matsoukas gave an emotional speech about Jefferson’s case and the danger Black women have faced at the hands of police, even while in their own homes.
“I was up late last night trying to write my speech, trying to show my appreciation for the opportunities and the love and support I’ve been given,” Matsoukas explained. “…All I could think of were my sisters who are not here, who could no longer speak, love, or thrive solely because of their existence as Black women.”
“[Jefferson] was killed in her own bedroom, which is meant to be a safe haven for a person. She was murdered by someone meant to protect and to serve her. She was murdered because she was Black,” Matsoukas continued.
She also invoked the name of Sandra Bland, who was found dead in her jail cell in Waller County, Tex., after three days in police custody resulting from a 2015 traffic stop. Her death was ruled a suicide by coroners, but activists maintain she should never have been arrested.
“Today, we stand here to honor her life. To honor Sandra Bland; to honor all the black and brown bodies whose lives were taken by law enforcement; who could have easily been me or [fellow honorees] Lena [Waithe] or Jodie [Turner-Smith] or Indya [Moore, a presenter at the WIH Awards].
Waithe further amplified Matsoukas’ speech by adding her own message of tribute and resistance, explaining to the audience, “We must tell our stories—and not just to educate white audiences, but to speak directly to those who have been ignored, to those who have been silenced, to those who have been taken far too soon. When the hunter tells the story, the lion will always be conquered.”