Queen & Slim is a first film fuelled by controlled anger by black female director Melina Matsoukas. It’s always gripping.
Black Lives Matterby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
A unnamed young black couple in Cleveland, Ohio are on an awkwardly unsuccessful Tinder first date in a diner: it unexpectedly turns into a nightmare. Their getting-to-know-you chat reveals that she (former model Jodie Turner-Smith) is an attorney and he’s… easygoing (excellent Daniel Kaluuya).
As he drives her home, his car is stopped by an aggressive white cop. The crime? Driving while black. The situation escalates swiftly and violently, as we’ve seen all too often on victims’ mobile phone videos, and results in the accidental shooting of the policeman. Although the young woman is an attorney, she knows their only hope of survival now is to flee. The unspoken truth she knows is that, as black people, they have no chance of fairness within the US justice system. Their lives have now changed forever.
This set-up is so tense you hold your breath. It’s terrifying to see ordinary people doing something ordinary suddenly finding their lives threatened by an authority figure with a gun who is so prejudiced against them.
Leaving everything behind – phones that could track them, wallets – the couple drive across America, first south to New Orleans. They’re following the old underground railroad escape route for slaves – but today they have to do it in reverse.
Queen & Slim develops like a road movie. They discover that as the dashcam video of the shooting goes viral, they have accidentally become symbols of resistance to the black people they encounter. Some hail them as the ‘black Bonnie & Clyde’, but they didn’t start off as criminals, they’re forced into breaking the law as they flee simply to try and save their lives and they make some bad decisions.
So Queen & Slim is about racism in America: it celebrates the beauty of the land while excoriating the country’s treatment of its black citizens. It was inspired by the many stories of innocent black people killed – like Trayvon Martin (shot by a resident for the crime of walking in a white neighbourhood) or Philandro Castile (shot by police for a minor traffic offence). It’s also the story of the relationship between the two protagonists as their dynamic ebbs and flows from dislike to attraction to respect. The atmospheric juke joint scene is like their second date. And the movie has a great soundtrack.
Queen & Slim is a first film fuelled by controlled anger by black female director Melina Matsoukas. It’s always gripping, and though it can be a bit uneven and the first half works best, it leaves you with an indelible final image. And it’s not just a one-sided vision: black people are not always the heroes and white males not always the villains.
It is likely to be seminal: it has been nominated for multiple awards this year and it’s a must-see.
Queen & Slim is released on 31 January 2020 in the UK.