Melvin Twigg Mason
The latest film release from MakeReady and Universal Studios is “Queen and Slim,” the heart-wrenching story of a first date that goes horribly wrong. It’s the directorial film debut of Melina Matsoukas (HBO series, “Insecure”), written by Emmy-winning Lena Waithe (Showtime’s “The Chi”), and starring Daniel Kaluuya (“Black Panther” and “Get Out”), and Jodie Turner-Smith (SyFy’s “Nightflyers”).
“Queen and Slim” follows the events of a black couple in present-day Cleveland who get pulled over for a minor traffic violation. An altercation arises with the police officer causing Slim to take deadly action, and the couple goes on the run. When a video of the incident goes viral, the unwitting outlaws soon become a symbol of Black American persecution & discrimination all across the country. [In fact, in many of Kaluuya’s recent films, his face and demeanor seem to exude that of “sick-and-tired” mistreatment.] The multi-state manhunt is like a story that could be ripped from contemporary headlines.
Turner-Smith and Kaluuya turn in moving & believable performances as a head-strong attorney and her overly-compliant companion. Bokeem Woodbine plays Queen’s uncle Earl, an Iraq war veteran and would-be neighborhood pimp, who aids their flight across state lines. Flea (bassist, Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Chloë Sevigny (“The Dead Don’t Die”) complete the main cast as Mr. & Mrs. Shepherd, a caucasian couple that also assists Queen and Slim in evading the law.
Waithe’s writing carries some excellent food for thought about the black experience in America with nuggets like these:
a) Queen (feeling insulted): “I’m an excellent attorney!”
Slim: “Why do black people always feel the need to be [so-called] ‘excellent’? Why can’t we just…be ourselves?”
b) Queen (questioning a call girl): “Why do y’all take that abuse from [Uncle Earl]? Why are you so good to him?”
Goddess: “He needs us to worship him. Out there [in the world] he’s [nothin’]; in here, [we want him to feel like] he’s king.”
The cinematography, the costuming and make-up, the props and locales, all give the film the look and feel of 1960s America, a brilliant stroke of intentionality (I believe) on the part of Matsoukas. Even though the film is set in modern-day America, the use of sienna & earth tones, a throwback soundtrack, vintage vehicles and hairstyles all take the viewer back subconsciously to black ghetto life in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Matsoukas’ non-verbal message seems to be: Not much has changed since then for Black Americans, as evidenced by Queen and Slim’s circumstances. Or perhaps she’s insinuating, what has changed is now reverting back, amid the current political climate in America.
In the spirit of prior films like Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” and Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X,” the value of “Queen and Slim” will be in the eye of the beholder. Some may be invigorated to action. Others may be stunned into silence. I was left feeling disheartened and annoyed. But I do recommend that you check it out for yourself and see how you feel.
Rated R for language, sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use.