Queen & Slim
Melina Matsoukas’s Queen & Slim brings Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith on screen together for the first time as they play two young, unnamed African Americans whose lives are thrust into chaos. What was simply meant to be a Tinder date turns into a race for their freedom. When pulled over by a policeman, Slim (Kaluuya) shoots the officer in self-defence. However, Queen (Turner-Smith) – an attorney – makes it clear that given his race, the judges are unlikely to see it the same way. The two flee for their lives without a plan in place; they simply begin an adventure that will teach both of them new lessons along the way.
In the first act, the movie wastes no time in getting straight to the point by kickstarting the two leads’ adventure and raising audience pulses to a palpable level. We immediately see white-prejudice thinking amongst individuals of power, aimed at Queen and Slim, who are reluctantly forced into this man hunt, taking action against those who genuinely wish to help them. Queen & Slim emphasises the racial divide in communities, some individuals disapproving of the crime they have committed, while others offer safety and inclusion and still others are inspired.
This latter reaction is relatively unknown to both Kaluuya and Turner-Smith‘s characters. As the media storm hardly reaches them in their continually moving environment, their only knowledge of what the world thinks of them comes from the people they meet. The way you see your heroes is not the way they see themselves. This message rings clearly throughout the second act, as we begin to witness protests occurring away from Queen and Slim’s car.
Kaluuya and Turner-Smith are excellent on screen together and the film itself is very stylish. Matsoukas takes inspiration from Bonnie and Clyde and Thelma & Louise, applying her experience from prior music video work too. Some breathtaking cinematography makes Queen and Slim’s journey to Miami all the more picturesque, encapsulating the idea of liberty and freedom into perfect, heavenly shots. The accompanying soundtrack further reveals the personalities of both of the main characters, developing with them as their outlook on life changes.
For all its positives, Queen & Slim is quite a clunky film, owing to how it’s formulated. If you were given a dollar for every time they argued over whether to stop the car or do something out of the ordinary, you would have enough money to fly them out of trouble yourself. This stop-start approach seems irrational given their circumstances and while it creates opportunities for them to realise what is truly important in life, it breaks the film’s fluidity – quite frustratingly. Some scenarios – as innocently heartfelt as they may be – feel artificial and involuntarily sandwiched in to build character development. Even so, by the film’s finale, the imbalance of the viewers’ knowledge about our heroes is heavily skewed towards Queen. All that is known about Slim is that he is relatively shy and has parents.
Nonetheless, Queen & Slim will shock you, unnerve you, make you laugh and fill your heart with joy, love and hope. Its message carries through resoundingly – despite its unevenness. If you take anything away from this film, it’s that life’s real beauty is there to be found, but only if you open your eyes to it. Well, that, and if you shoot a police officer, you might be forced into finding it.
Queen & Slim is released nationwide on 31st January 2020.
Watch the trailer for Queen & Slim here: