‘Queen & Slim’ Is a Thought-Provoking Saga That Explores Racism and Police Brutality in America
The serious issues plaguing America concerning racism and police brutality are explored in Lena Waithe and James Frey‘s “Queen & Slim,” an eye-opening film that is a romance, crime thriller and road trip drama rolled into one. Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya give powerful and vulnerable performances as the titular couple, two thirty-somethings from Ohio with different worldviews who are thrown together after life takes a sharp turn.
This 2019 Bonnie and Clyde story starts off with a Tinder date, of course. The woman who comes to be known as Queen is a criminal lawyer, and a tough day at work is what leads her to give a delayed affirmative response to Slim’s invitation to dinner. From the first moments, it’s apparent that the pair are far from an ideal match. She’s a high-strung professional who has little patience for subpar customer service, while he’s a patient, benevolent type of guy who prays before eating. Although Queen no doubt sees something to admire in her dinner companion — when she asks him why he chose to take her to a mediocre diner, he says because it’s black-owned — she seems to have little interest in progressing the relationship. However, their fates become intertwined after Slim is pulled over for a minor violation while driving Queen home. The situation with the police officer (Sturgill Simpson), who is later revealed to have previously killed an unarmed African-American man, quickly escalates and culminates with Slim taking the crooked cop’s gun and shooting him in self-defense.
Slim’s initial reaction is to turn himself in, and with her career in law, one would think that Queen would be onboard with this. However, she knows all too well how unjust the system can be, and it is her who insists that they go on the run. They eventually come up with a plan to flee to Cuba, but, predictably, there are a number of obstacles in their way.
The setting of Middle America gives “Queen & Slim” an old school feel that amplifies that Bonnie and Clyde vibe. The couple’s journey takes them to places such as a downscale jazz club, a New Orleans house of ill-repute, and a horse farm on the side of the road. Director Melina Matsoukas, who previously helmed Beyoncé’s “Formation” video, finds the beauty in all of these locations. Meanwhile, Waithe and Frey create a colorful cast of characters, including a nerdy teen clerk (Colby Boothman) at a Kentucky gas station, who gives Slim a free fill up in exchange for holding his gun, a mechanic’s son (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), who sees the outlaw pair as heros, and Earl (Bokeem Woodbine), the owner of the aforementioned New Orleans house, and Queen’s uncle, with whom she has a complex relationship. There’s also Earl’s old military buddy and his wife, played by Flea and Chloë Sevigny, who at first glance look like a pair of straight-laced republicans, but actually live in a house made for hiding out from the police. The fact that it is never easy to guess who is trustworthy and who isn’t serves to deepen the tension, and the bounty that gets placed upon Queen and Slim’s heads certainly makes the situation more dire and intense.
Despite the gravity of the situation, there are plenty of sweet moments as Queen and Slim fall in love, which happens naturally and gradually, or as gradually as it can occur when two people are trapped together for six days, mostly on the open road. The pair touch on deep topics that are thought-provoking to themselves and viewer, such as spirituality, mortality, and being black in America. Early on during their journey, Slim asks Queen if she’s a good lawyer. “I’m an excellent lawyer,” she says confidently. “Why do black people always feel the need to be excellent?” He responds. “Why can’t we just be ourselves?”
“Queen & Slim” opens Nov. 27 in theaters nationwide.