Americans, being pulled over by police risks more than just an expensive fine.
It becomes a matter
of life and death.
The manner whereby
police interaction can escalate into gunfire has been a dominant theme in the
past decade of filmmaking, with the likes of Fruitvale Station,Blindspotting,
and The Hate U Give offering unflinching depictions of police brutality
and systemic racism.
discussion into 2020 (or 2019 if you live in America) is screenwriter Lena
Waithe and director Melina Matsoukas’ jugular gnawing, heart-rending, gut-punch
of an outlaw love story, Queen & Slim.
On a cold Ohio
night, Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) drive home
following their unsuccessful Tinder date. Their undeniable chemistry, however
electric, is contrasted by the two’s differing Type-A-Type-B personalities; the
highly driven Queen’s penchant for no-nonsense being met by Slim’s relaxed
demeanour. We are given but a few moments to relish in their coyness, with the
carpet soon ripped from underneath the audiences feet upon the arrival of a
racist police officer.
Doing what they can
to survive the nightmarish situation, their momentary preparation to engage
with the police officer feeling indoctrinated into them, things turn for the
worst when an offhand remark made by Slim drives the officer into a mad fury.
Slim’s initial begging for his life transcends into a fight for survival, with
Slim’s act of self-defence, which results in the death of the police officer,
flipping the script on the ‘police-killing-of-unarmed-Black-Americans’
narrative. Thankful to have survived, Queen and Slim are not oblivious to how
their interactions will be interpreted by media and lawmakers; be-it their
existence in a justice system that denies Black Americans equality before the
law. Their necessary act to survive, regarded as an act of ‘cop-killing’ by the
media, leads the two runaways out on the open road.
Queen and Slim’s
journey develops throughout the film, becoming not only a story of escaping
oppression, but a story of embracing identity, joie de vivre and the grace of
The team of Waithe
and Matsoukas don’t so much as make you care about Queen and Slim as much as
they do absorb you into their relationship. The pitch-perfect casting of
Kaluuya and British newcomer Turner-Smith drives this home, with the talented
youngsters portraying charming, well-rounded characters who deliver on the full
spectrum of human emotion. This is where Queen and Slim finds its stride,
choosing to empower the injustices felt by its titular characters by showcasing
realised humans with human needs.
They may be on the
run, but they remain liberated, if not, defiant.
Matsoukas does not deny reality, with there being no depletion of nerve-racking
horror to be felt during Queen & Slim.
It is a harrowing depiction that becomes even more confronting considering the
film’s influence stemming from the real-life struggles of Black Americans. The
developing romance, allowing the audience to become invested in the central
duo, becomes challenged by the onslaught of hardships thrown at their
direction. From reuniting with estranged family members to the presence of a
police officer on-screen, the police shoot-first-think-later mentality drawing
all-consuming ire, Queen & Slim
begs a nervous – albeit important – watch.
recognising the impact mainstream media has on perpetuating problematic
societal attitudes, Queen & Slim
extends the narrative of racism through the gaze of Black America. It depicts
the complexity of the matter with earnest gumption that denotes the susceptible
manner systemic racism buries into not only the justice system, but culture.
The impending conflict for many Black Americans being the unfair expectation to
be exceptional, demonstrate blind allegiance, turn to figureheads, and to act
with a suitability that conforms to white society. The hustle to survive, and
the distressing extent of marginalisation on the landscape of America, further
perpetuates these pressures felt by Black Americans, with Queen & Slim’s climax embodying the problematic scope of this
with fervent rigour.
Thematically, Queen & Slim peels back the layers
of Black identity like few films before it. Queen’s perspective as a lawyer,
who refrains from allowing emotion to get in the way of the facts, views the
world with a level of objectivity that breaks down throughout the film. Her
eventual emancipation expressed through mind, performance and aesthetic, casts
a shining light on Turner-Smith.
this sense of aesthetic through to Queen &
Slim’s production design, with the ‘Formation’ director showcasing a stunning
array of striking visuals that speak a testament to her ability as a
first-class director. The dimension this provides on Queen and Slim allows for
slow-burning, top-notch visuals to communicate the depths of the two runaways
Self-aware of the
parallels the film will draw to Bonnie
and Clyde, even indulgently describing itself as the ‘Black Bonnie and Clyde’, there is a profound
and euphoric centre to Queen & Slim,
one that is powered by a romance for the cinematic ages, that probes into the
heartland of racial inequality in Trump-era America.
Director: Melina Matsoukas
Cast: Jodie Turner-Smith,
Daniel Kaluuya, Bokeem Woodbine
Writer: Lena Waithe, (based on a story by James Frey and Lena Waithe)
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