Melina Matsoukas’ Queen & Slim is an astonishing directorial debut, with an incredible soundtrack and beautiful imagery. The screenplay is by Lena Waithe, from a story by herself and James Frey. The plot follows Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) as they go on the run after killing a police officer in self-defense. What follows is the growing intimacy between the two as they are forced to depend on one another. Without intending to, they become icons for the black community in America, as well as symbols of defiance against the entrenched prejudice of the police system.
Funnily enough the pair meet through the dating app Tinder, but what follows is a deep connection between the two. By going on the run together, the pair relax into one another, discover more about themselves and find closure in their lives. This is particularly the case for Queen’s character, who lets down her impenetrable guard for Slim. The bond between the two is juxtaposed with an inescapable violence that they are constantly running away from. In one scene in particular moments of love and passion are cut with those of violence and brutality, which perfectly surmises the tension at the foundation of their relationship.
Daniel Kaluuya gives a fantastic performance as expected, and Jodie Turner-Smith’s breakout lead performance was also convincing and a pleasure to watch. I am excited to see what future projects she will work on and the trajectory her career will take. Bokeem Woodbine’s character Uncle Earl, provides depth for Queen’s character. He lives with various women, who view him as their “King”. There’s one woman in particular called Goddess, played by Indya Moore, who has sway with Uncle Earl and convinces him to help the “black Bonnie and Clyde”, as he calls them. These characters are integral to the feel and look of the film. Shiona Turini did a great job with the costume design, helping the film to achieve its overall aesthetic.
Although the characters are on the run, the cinematography, by Tat Radcliffe, presents a freeing nature to the journey they undertake. The film is predominantly made up of scenes of Queen and Slim in a car driving through vistas and open plains. The aesthetic of the film is complimented wonderfully by the score. It is no surprise that Matsouka is a music video director, as music is a prominent part of Queen & Slim, with all of the songs fitting the tone. Matsouka previously directed Beyoncé’s music video for “Formation” in 2016, which also tackles US police brutality. There is a scene in the music video in which police officers raise their arms in response to a black boy standing in front of them who has done the same. This imagery, followed by the words “stop shooting us” spray painted on a wall, clearly link to the topical issues raised in Queen & Slim. Queen & Slim is relevant today, and feels epic in its climactic ending moments that give an all too real and tragic portrayal of modern America.