By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Director Melina Matsoukas makes her feature film debut with a gorgeously- shot portrait of unwitting outlaws involved in a violent killing. Matsoukas takes the tropes of outlaws-on-the-run and utilities them to make a bold stance against prejudice and police corruption. Her film, though not superbly executed, deserves praise and attention for its artistic integrity and its courageous audacity for not sugar coating its cautionary messages. On the surface, Queen & Slim might seem like another glorification of criminality, but Matsoukas and writer Lena Waithe definitely keep things very real.
After a mostly awkward and unromantic date, a Black man (Daniel Kaluuya) and woman (Jodie Turner-Smith) get pulled over by a police officer looking for trouble. The obviously racist cop gets belligerent and violent when the couple questions the officer’s excessive scrutiny and harassment. Things quickly escalate and the officer gets shot and killed. The two acquaintances flee the scene and decide to live their lives on the run. As the two travel cross-country with plans to eventually leave the United States, the police video of their incident goes viral and makes them folk heroes.
Now granted, my synopsis probably makes the movie sound rather cliche, but I tried to summarize the key points without revealing too much. I ask that my readers take my word that Queen & Slim is a compelling piece of cinema that deserves attention. It is a true case of, “This can happen to any Black American.” Utilizing the elements of the wrong place, wrong time, and a racist police officer, Matsoukas and Lena Waithe make a genuine case of self defense–a kill or be killed scenario. This example, where the very real instinct of self-preservation comes into play, could honestly happen to anyone.
Though Matsoukas and Waithe make a valid point with their argument, the film does meander a tad much when it comes to the road trip aspect of the film. Still, the filmmakers offer a beautifully cinematic portrait of Black America that captures the energy, heart, and passion amidst the pathos that has existed for so many generations.
As the titular Queen & Slim, actors Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith both give great performances with Kaluuya being the real standout. The movie also features a rather entertaining turn by Bokeem Woodbine as Queen’s Uncle Earl, an hornery fixture in New Orleans who help the outlaws as best as he can. The film also has striking appearances by Flea, Chloe Sevigny, Indiya Moore, and Sturgill Simpson.
Now, Queen & Slim may not be one of the very top films of the year, but it is still a bold and provocative one that offers realism and intelligent commentary. Melina Matsoukas has made a big splash in the arena of feature filmmaking and I highly anticipate what she has to offer cinema next.