The credits roll, the music fades, lights go up, tears dry, and the audience is on their feet with rapturous applause. This is what the BAM theatre looked like when the CultureCon screening of Queen & Slim finished. What at first seems like a story of resistance toward police brutality, quickly gives way to a more stoic, yet resigned story of romance.
Written by Emmy winner Lena Waithe and directed by two time Grammy award winner Melina Matsoukas, Queen & Slim tells the story of Queen and Slim (who will remain unnamed in my review), two people who after an average first date must go on the run from the law after killing a White police officer in self-defense during a traffic stop. The film is a first for both Waithe and Matsoukas, who have never made feature-length films before. This fact a mere piece of trivia because despite being a first for these women, it is clear the movie is made by seasoned professionals.
As an accomplished director of music videos and television (Rihanna’s “We Found Love”, Beyonce’s “Formation”, Issa Rae’s Insecure), Matsoukas brought her signature style and aesthetic to the film. Every shot is just as beautiful as the one before it. The framing of faces that added humanity, the establishing shots to acquaintance us with the American South, the way she uses color to her advantage. One scene stands out in my mind. A blue car, blue sky, each character wearing a different shade of blue except for the film’s protagonist. The boldness and richness of the colors struck me, but not in an obvious way. It was something so beautiful and so natural that it almost seemed coincidental. It felt when you were watching it, like the preamble to an Americana music video that’s so beautiful you play it on a loop just to take it all in; just to see what you didn’t see the last time.
Lena Waithe’s edgy, poetic dialogue is what truly makes the film both refreshing and heartbreaking. It’s funny in a way you wouldn’t expect a movie of this subject matter to be. There’s hardly a scene that doesn’t elicit at the very least a giggle, but usually, a full, hearty laugh that erupts from your chest and becomes a smile. There are moments when the dialogue hits too close to home, exposing a truth hidden in plain sight that everyone knows but doesn’t always feel the need to speak. There is a poetry to the dialogue, something that fits the dreamlike look of the film. Every word written with the intention to hit each audience member with maximum impact.
Queen is strongwilled, opinionated, and unapologetic. She is a woman that has suffered much and thus prefers to be alone, and although her arrogance makes her somewhat dislikable, there is a quality in her that is captivating. She is a mystery we long to solve the same way Slim does. For her first role, Jodie Turner-Smith establishes herself as a leading lady. It is not easy to hold your own against an actor as versatile and experienced as Daniel Kaluuya, but she does; buoyed sometimes but never ever carried by him. We’ll surely be seeing more of her.
Slim, played by Kaluuya, is the opposite of Turner-Smith’s Queen. He’s just as opinionated but perhaps not as strongwilled. He’s a religious man who prays before he eats his food and listens to gospel to calm his nerves and he has a nurturing quality to him that makes him easy to love. It’s his sweetness, his protective nature, his slight naivete, and Kaluuya blends them all together seamlessly. Words that might sound contrived if they came from someone else sound like poetry from him. His and Turner-Smith’s chemistry is what cements the film and truly conveys the tragedy of their situation. What could they have been had they gotten to know each other under different circumstances?
What’s most important to know about Queen & Slim is that it is unapologetically Black and doesn’t bother to explain why. It is a film that asks you to hope but at the same time doesn’t promise to fulfill any of those hopes. It’s a comedy, a thriller, a romance, and a tragedy. It’s a story about police brutality, but above all else, it’s a story about love.
It’s not Bonnie and Clyde…
It’s Queen & Slim.
Queen and Slim premieres in theatres on November 27th. The film served as the opening night for the AFI Film Festival.