Social messages have become a staple in recent films, but very few are capable of delivering an important message while also telling a gripping story and Queen & Slim is one of those few that can do both very well. A powerful fugitive film that balances an engaging love story while also speaking to the current climate in America’s black community. While not a complete hit from start to finish, Queen & Slim delivers an overall thrilling tale about a tinder date gone to hell.
Directed by Melina Matsoukas and written by Lena Waithe, the film follows two young African American adults who go on a first date only to end up on the run from the law after an act of self-defense against a crooked cop. The two become legendary after footage of the incident goes viral and they are labeled the black Bonnie and Clyde. Queen & Slim stars Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine, Chloe Sevigny, Sturgill Simpson, and Indya Moore.
Waithe’s script is covered in symbolism, themes and multiple metaphors that reference the way society currently is for African Americans that find themselves in situations like the one our two protagonists find themselves in. The two leads are very likable characters for the most part, but Queen is fleshed out a little bit more than Slim. Initially, she comes across as a snobby, arrogant, entitled individual. However, the film spends time unpacking why she has certain traits by diving into her rough background. Slim is just a regular man looking for acceptance for who he is as opposed to something he isn’t. He has a take me as I am or leave me where I stand attitude. In regards to the social messages, Queen & Slim speaks to police brutality, racism, and the unfortunate effects it has on society.
Adding to that, the film does an amazing job at illustrating the different views that an intense encounter with an officer can spark amongst African Americans. The viral video featuring our two leads causes a movement across the nation, and many of these participants view Queen & Slim as heroes or saviors for the community. However, perhaps they don’t want to be viewed as heroes and simply just want the truth to be told without it resulting in chaos from their peers. In fact, the names of these two “heroes” aren’t revealed until the final moments, echoing how it seems black lives matter more after the fact or when something corrupt happens. Queen & Slim falls short a bit in the pacing, which feels very tense for both the characters and the audience for two acts, but one act drags a bit due to the nonexistent tension.
Kaluuya stars as Ernest Himes (Slim) and Smith stars as Angela Johnson (Queen). Kaluuya is fantastic in his role, and while it may come across as the same old thing we have seen from him in the past, he manages to make this character unique. Smith is great in her role as Angela, who happens to be an attorney so she knows how the system works against certain people based on the experiences she has had with clients in the past. This pairing worked really well and watching their two characters fall in love over the course of the film is an absolute treat. They do an amazing job of portraying two people who know they may be on borrowed time and just simply want to cherish what could be their final days of freedom.
Matsouka’s direction is impressive for a directional debut, but there is certainly room for improvement. Overall though, she captures a lot of great shots in this unexpectedly sweet film about two strangers caught in an American nightmare. Matsouka is more known for her work with music videos, but for a directional debut in film she showed off her talents really well. Cinematographer Tat Radcliffe also complimented with her direction, as the images on screen are very pleasing. Perhaps the biggest component working for Queen & Slim is the score by Deonte Hynes, which is very thrilling and makes every scene that much better, specifically the film’s final moments, which is very strong and intense.
Queen & Slim doesn’t appear to be getting the recognition it deserves, but this is a film with a purpose and a beautiful story backing it up. Whether or not it will get award recognition when that time comes is anyone’s guess, but Kaluuya and Smith deserve one for their performances and so does Waithe’s for this well-written script. Queen & Slim isn’t a must-see, but it has a lot to unpack and enjoy for everyone.