“Queen & Slim” is an artful and enticing story adapted from the real-life threats faced by African-Americans posed by the American justice system, particularly violent confrontations with police officers. Director Melina Matsoukas achieves this through a beautiful pairing of actors and dramatically romantic cinematography.
Actors Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith are referred to as “black Bonnie and Clyde” by Queen’s uncle, portrayed by Bokeem Woodbine, who provides aid to the characters. They play the part of the couple on the run flawlessly, yet their reasons for running are justified and emotional unlike the serial bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde they are compared to. Kaluuya, having played roles in multiple ground-breaking films such as “Get Out” and “Black Panther,” delivered the gritty and emotional performance of the character Slim. Slim killed a police officer after his own life was threatened by the officer when a traffic stop escalates. He then faces the emotional trauma of taking someone’s life, despite acting in self-defense. He shows signs of anxiety and depression throughout the film. Kaluuya mimics this emotional trauma convincingly, as his character pretends to be fine, yet shows signs of true trauma. Turner-Smith is less known, compared to Kaluuya; however, she plays the role of Queen perfectly. She compliments Kaluuya beautifully, as she is the voice of reason throughout the movie, and is essentially keeping Slim alive the entire time through her own experience with the legal system, as she is an attorney. Her acting style reflects Queen’s character as strong-willed, independent and highly-educated, which is the opposite of the caricature of black criminals often portrayed in the media.
The film begins with Queen and Slim, their real names not revealed until later in the film, on a Tinder date. The date is going poorly, and it is clear that the relationship is not going to work out. As they drive home from the date, Slim is pulled over. The police officer almost immediately becomes violent and an altercation takes place. The cop ends up shot dead by Slim and, although it was self-defense, Queen and Slim decide they must go on the run, fearful of the way the justice system would handle the situation. The two are met with help along the way from people whose support they have gained. Many people assume the couple’s killing of the cop was an act of protest, and Queen and Slim unknowingly spark a series of protests and demonstrations against police brutality and become icons around the nation. Some of these demonstrations result in terrible outcomes, such as a child shooting a cop, which then results in further blaming of Queen and Slim.
Neither character wanted to commit a crime, in fact, they both wanted to get home and have an innocent night. The police officer not only pulled them over, but he is at fault for everything that unfolded that night. Overcome by anxiety, sadness and even love for each other, eventually, the audience’s hearts will be beating for Queen and Slim by the end of the movie. The purpose of this film is not simply for entertainment, but to show that the African-American people who are shown on the news and are only remembered for their crimes are people with stories, feelings, and aspirations.
“Queen & Slim” is fast-paced, the first action happening only moments after the movie begins, and not stopping until the very end. Viewers will be locked into the movie as soon as it begins, and by the end, they may find themselves in tears. The movie is entertaining and visually appealing, but its most important aspect is an accurate representation of some African Americans’ interactions with police. It shows the fear black people can feel when pulled over and the blatant profiling police officers may exhibit. It gives insight into the ways the media and justice system can target suspects and treat them unfairly simply based on their skin color. It humanizes black people accused of crimes who would normally only be portrayed as criminals by telling their stories and showing who they are through Queen and Slim’s relationship.