January 10, 2020 | Written Drefnie Limprevil, Illustrations by Nadia Naeem
Queen and Slim is not just another Bonnie and Clyde movie. The screenwriting debut of Lena Waithe tells the tale of a Tinder date gone wrong, where a black couple tries to escape their inevitable criminalization after defending themselves against a police officer. Directed by Melina Matsoukas, the film uses the theme of vulnerability and immortality to portray the story of two young adults and an unlikely relationship.
Illustrations by Nadia Naeem
The movie starts on a dreary note, with Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith), a lawyer, and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya), a Costco employee, on a date where the chemistry is clearly off. On the car ride back, at the close of what seems to be an uneventful night, the pair is pulled over by a police officer who conducts an invasive and unnecessary search. After shooting Queen and threatening to kill Slim, Slim shoots the officer. Fearing they will be criminalized for this act of self-defense, they steal the gun and flee the scene. Queen directs Slim to drive down to Louisiana to meet her Uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine), who she knows will be able to help them flee arrest. What results is a blossoming relationship as they drive from Cleveland to Louisiana, and then to Florida, where they plan an escape to Cuba.
In the first half, the audience sees the conflict between the headstrong, pragmatic Queen and the reluctant, naive Slim. They constantly butt heads and argue about everything, from simple issues to the morality of their actions. After arriving at Uncle Earl's house and hatching a plan to escape to Cuba, they both change their hair to help conceal their identities. This scene marks a notable shift in their chemistry. As Queen undoes her twists, Slim sees her vulnerability for the first time, as she literally and figuratively removes the layers and hostile posture she puts on to protect herself. As the pair moves through the South in their new identities, they begin to embrace the journey to Florida. Right when they become uncertain of their prospects of making it out, they meet a teenager who idolizes them and presents their story as immortal.
Illustrations by Nadia Naeem
Though the plot of the movie is captivating, it struggles with what it wants to be. The most compelling parts are the emotional experiences of the characters and the evolution of their relationship. The movie’s attempt to address the topic of police brutality head-on can feel awkward and unnatural. It is the subtle details, such as the progressive twisting of the story by the media and the failure to say their names until the end of the film, that feels more effective and point to the sinister consequences of police aggression in narratives. The story of black love amidst struggle in and of itself is enough of a political statement, making political scenes feel less natural in the plot. While the narrative somewhat struggles to reconcile the love story with the political statements, it is the film's aesthetics and soundtrack that truly make it special. The music that played throughout the film, a blend of hip-hop and R&B accompanied by an orchestral score, complemented the dialogue seamlessly. This impressive soundtrack is no shock since Matsoukas’ previous work includes iconic music video projects like Rihanna's We Found Love and Beyonce's Lemonade. When the characters were unable to express the mood of the moment, songs from Slim's playlist found the words to describe their energy.
Queen and Slim is saved by the raw and emotional performances by Kaluuya and Turner-Smith, the seamless integration of music, and the story of an unlikely relationship. The movie addresses issues of race, while not taking itself too seriously all the same time.