A few months ago, I wrote a piece titled “In Less Than 3 Minutes, Queen & Slim Is Already One of My Favourite Movies of All Time”. Now, having seen the full 132 minutes, I can confirm: I was right! I was lucky enough to see an advanced screening of the highly anticipated film and was blown away visually and emotionally. Check out the official NBGA Review of Queen & Slim:
“What happens tonight?” is a question asked early on in Queen & Slim, from Daniel Kaluuya, as the loud-chewing retail worker to the poised, if not tightly, wound lawyer on the ride home from their awkward diner date. He thinks he might get lucky. He should know better. Unfortunately, that doesn’t matter, because one way or another, they were never making it home. What instead happens is a chilling incident of police brutality that while disturbing, is not at all surprising or unfamiliar. With a cop itching for confrontation, what should’ve been a simple traffic encounter ends in bloodshed. Mere minutes after that question was posed, Queen has a bullet in her leg, Slim just killed a white cop, and the not-quite-couple have no choice but to go on the run.
The where and the when is unclear, but the destination is on the back burner. It’s the journey that really matters. The script has the couple traveling by vehicle through the south. Queen, played by Jodie Turner-Smith, is intelligent, beautiful, slightly cold yin to Slim’s, played by Daniel Kaluuya, cool, sweet, laid-back yang. While they encounter various people along the way, most of the two-hour screen time is given to our leads, confined to a car, as if in their own world, with nothing but the radio playing.
Speaking of the radio, man oh man is the soundtrack good! As if a tour through black music, it features Fela Kuti, Vince Staples, Solange, The-Dream, Lil Baby, Herbie Hancock, Meg Thee Stallion, (fat vs. skinny) Luther Vandross, and a new track from Ms. Lauren Hill and more.
Poetic touches, melanin-rich visuals, and music aside, what really makes Queen & Slim is the way the couple is perceived by each person they come across. From the black dad and his son rooting for them, offering a black power fist, to the creepy white boy at the gas station, insistent on holding his “Glock”, to another, juxtaposing black father and son, the couple on the run is a different symbol to everyone. Meanwhile, Queen and Slim don’t see themselves as revolutionaries, or cowards, or cop-killers, or heroes. They’re just scared and in love. The kind of love that can only be shared between two black people. Yet their very presence is a symbol, it strains marriages, questions the blue bonds between police, and challenges the notion of black solidarity.
Queen’s uncle, played by magnificently by Bokeem Woodbine, humorously refers to the couple as the “Black Bonnie and Clyde”, a comparison that has been made often since the film’s announcement. However, to compare the two couples would be a grand injustice. Queen and Slim aren’t outlawed criminals on the run. And Queen & Slim isn’t some on-the-lam road movie. Queen and Slim is a black odyssey. We follow Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith on that journey, as they give two first-rate performances, with sparkling chemistry that lifts the work of writer Lena Waithe and director Melina Matsoukas of the screen.
For black people living in the diaspora, it will strike an unbearable chord. For others, it should hail as an artistic reminder of the many, daily, glaring parts of life that tell us the system we live in is designed to oppress an unlucky few. Queen & Slim is a nuanced portrayal of family, legacy, and the humanity of the black experience. With a legacy as the main theme of the film, Lena Waithe, Melina Matsoukas, and everyone who worked on this film can be proud of what they’ve left behind for this world. Both timely, and timeless, Queen & Slim will move you. It’s not perfect, but it’s close.
Queen & Slim opens everywhere November 27th.