Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith star as fugitives on the run in this tense romantic-thriller.
It’s a directorial feature debut for Melina Matsoukas, who has established her name through her music video work, most notably with Beyonce Knowles-Carter’s recent single Formation. Now turning her hand to filmmaking, Matsoukas showcases an important racial message in her fresh take on the old ‘road trip movie’ formula with a Bonnie and Clyde twist.
The film starts off tense but with some relatable light humour thrown in. We join a young black couple, Slim (Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out, 2017) and Queen (Melina Matsoukas, in her first feature role), on an awkward first date together. The date is pretty forgettable for both parties, but the night gets worse when on the drive home the couple is pulled over by a hostile white police officer.
Tragically, the encounter quickly begins to escalate, in the worst way and in the process of self-defence, Slim kills the police officer. Fearing for their lives and knowing the usual outcome for their situation, Slim and Queen are forced to go on the run. However, when video footage of the incident goes viral they are propelled into stardom, as they become the unwilling symbols for the trauma and terror of the victims and loved ones of racially motivated police violence.
Half-way through the film, Queen and Slim are described by Queen’s uncle as “the black Bonnie and Clyde.” But the symbolism is used to excellent advantage by Matsoukas. Like Bonnie and Clyde, Queen and Slim’s criminal actions have been romanticised and their rise to fame baffles them both as they try to come to terms with the mythology the public have created.
It demonstrates how the power of social media and the accumulated grief of thousands can shape the way a person is viewed by the world. Through this Matsouka gives a voice to those who are otherwise ignored in their despair and agony at the American justice system.
The film is often violent but justified. It depicts the way a lot of marginalised people have to live in order to survive. It also reveals how black people are sometimes forced to look after each other in times of need, keeping each other safe when they are often perceived as guilty from the offset.
But most of all, the film is about love and letting go of who you think you should be to satisfy society. And this is demonstrated in the impeccable character progression expertly scripted by Emmy-award-winning Lena Waithe (Master of None), skilful directing by Matsoukas and by the impeccable performances from Kaluuya and Turner-Smith.
From the moment we see the immediate fear and confusion on the two protagonist’s faces during that terrifying traffic stop, we are on their side, we are with them till the end. Kaluuya shines as he effortlessly displays Slim’s vulnerability as an everyday man hoping to find love and acceptance, while Turner-Smith effectively progresses from the proud but lonely criminal defence lawyer to a woman willing to open herself up to someone else by letting go of the past with flawless ease.
Queen & Slim tackles some challenging but crucial subjects that will leave cinema-goers debating for hours after watching, but it’s an urgent message that Matsoukas bravely provides in a film that blurs the out-dated line of right and wrong and sheds some serious light on the personal struggles of African-American community’s daily life.
Also published on Medium.