Queen And Slim
Director: Melina Matsoukas
Writer: Lena Waithe
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, ChloÃ« Sevigny, Flea, Bokeem Woodbine, Indya Moore
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Rated: R | Minutes: 132
Release Date: November 27, 2019
If art is a reflection of society, then Queen And Slim is a serious call to action to address the societal damages that police brutality and systemic racism cause when it is allowed to continue to fester across America. Melina Matsoukas, who makes her directorial debut using a script written by Lena Waithe, reimagines the outlaws on the run from the law story by adding timely real-world social themes that we see making news headlines too often. Though a film will not completely change the hearts and minds of those who may not see these dangers, it can be a powerful reminder that it still continues to exist and if it isn’t taken care of, these senseless deaths will continue to happen. My review below.
The film starts off harmless enough with our title characters Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith), an uptight criminal defense lawyer and atheist, going on a Tinder date with Slim (Daniel Kaluuya), a retail employee and devout Christian. The two meet up at a local Ohio diner, with Queen explaining how she didn’t want to feel alone after the jury sentenced her client to death. She is irritated, so much so that she begins to chastise the waitress for getting Slim’s order wrong. He is quick to defend the waitress because she is a mother of four and works multiple jobs. The two couldn’t be more incompatible, but for some reason, there is an unexplainable attraction.
However, the night takes a turn for the worst when a white police officer stops Slim for a minor traffic infraction. The officer’s tone of voice and prejudice already indicates that he has a bias, which only tells us that this could end one of two ways: Slim is either going to get arrested or he is going to end up shot. Slim recognizes the danger and complies with every one of the officer’s demands, but the officer escalates his harassment when he asks Slim to get out of the car to open the trunk filled with nothing but shoes. Soon, Queen comes to his defense, oftentimes having to explain that Slim has to look away because the officer is shining a light in his eyes or asking if the officer has a warrant to look in the trunk. But when Slim asks if it is over because it is cold, the officer pulls out his gun and points it at Slim as if Slim incited aggression. Once again, Queen comes to his defense and says that she is a lawyer and that the officer has no right to do this. Unfortunately, the officer shoots at Queen, which only forces Slim to lunge at the officer, take his gun, and shoot him dead.
The realization that they are two black people who just shot at a white police officer soon kicks in and they know that they have zero options if they stay. So they go on the run, going from Ohio to Miami, turning to the very few people they can trust to killer family members and other shady people.
They race to freedom, to say the least, because as awful as their date was, a relationship blossoms between the two, one of which will see how their opinions, views, and way of life will change the other. They have made a nationwide impact for the black community who sees the two as symbols of the fight against oppression and police brutality. Along their journey, they see and hear stories about how others had the same experiences. A father raises his fist in support, while an impressionable child sees the two as heroes. However, there are those in the minority who see their actions as dangerous and as something that could make matters worse.
Credit to Waite for attempting to bring forth both sides of the story and trying to get as much of the nuances of the real-world problems that many of us face in the film as possible. We see how parts of Black America have been put into a corner and how much they have had to endure against the oppression of the police. Though there are times where the story’s message does get lost in the excitement of the chase. Certain twists only add an extra layer of confusion as to where the film is going or what kind of debate it wants the audience to have. At times, the film seems to have a difficult time striking a balance between the thrill of being on the run and addressing the real-world social issues. It also doesn’t help that despite the utmost urgency of the two making it across the south to get to freedom, they make some pretty strange decisions that not only delay them from reaching freedom, but also needlessly prolong the film.
But perhaps this gives us more time to see how these characters will develop along their journey. Turner-Smith’s Queen doesn’t believe in God and puts her faith in luck. She the loudest voice between the two as she shows no fear in being outspoken or making executive decisions. This is a stark contrast to Slim, who is more reserved and accepting of the truth – this is clear when Queen bluntly says that the date was both a pity case and will not end with them in bed together. However, he is not one to let the circumstances decide his fate. Both display a certain level of vulnerability as they face the very real threat that they probably will not make it out of this alive. The very notion of that really scares them. To which, they have no one else to turn to but each other.
Other times, the film sheds light on a Black America that would have been ignored by White America. That becomes clear when Slim takes Queen to a blues club where everyone in there knows who they are, but gives them temporary sanctuary. The cinematography captures the two in their most intimate moment, one of which they can lower their guard and finally be the two people that they were meant to be. The music swirls, and the dancing is symbolic of the freedoms the two could have experienced as a couple if they weren’t on the run. But this is a temporary reprieve of being on the run. The only thing that is clear is that these two will be each other’s legacy.
Though it may struggle to find the right tone, there is no denying that the journey to freedom that the titular characters go on is captivating. While there is no way a film like Queen And Slim can provide all of the answers to the problems of racism that continue to plague America today, it can at least can spark a conversation that is needed to bring it to an end.