Queen & Slim is where romance meets drama, enveloped in terror and pain. After a traffic-stop-gone-wrong on their awkward first date, Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) must go on-the-run a-la “Bonnie and Clyde” after an altercation with a police officer turns deadly. Pulled over as he drives Queen home, Slim complies with the officer and steps out of the vehicle.
With his gun drawn on Slim, Queen tries to record the situation on her phone. But the moment she steps out of the car, the officer’s target has shifted and he shoots at Queen, grazing her leg. In that moment, Slim tackles the officer, retrieves his gun, and shoots him in an act of self-defense.
The pair don’t go unidentified, becoming viral and labeled as “cop killers” across media outlets. With no choice but to evade the law, Slim and Queen go on-the-run, travelling far and wide to find asylum after an incident that would bond them forever.
The film, written by Lena Waithe from a story by Waithe and author, James Frey, was directed by Melina Matsoukas in her feature directorial debut. Waithe, known for her roles in “Master of None” (the Netflix show that scored her the Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for the episode “Thanksgiving”) and work on “Dear White People,” told The New York Times that the idea for the plot came from a chance meeting with the “A Million Little Pieces” author at a party who planted the seed for the “swapped narrative.”
Matsoukas is no stranger to directing, despite “Queen & Slim” being her feature film debut. She directed Rihanna’s music video for “We Found Love” and the iconic “Formation” video from Beyonce’s visual album, “Lemonade.” Waite and Matsoukas are friends outside of their work, but as colleagues they know when to let each other do their thing.
“Well we talk about everything,” Waithe told the NYT. “And I know my lane. I’ve tried my hand at directing — it’s not for me. So I would never tell her how to direct a movie, and she would never tell me how to write one.”
The film released in theaters on November 27, earning an impressive $16 million in revenue after its holiday debut compared to its meager budget to produce.
“Queen & Slim” has been revered for its cinematic visuals, from sprawling shots to its eccentric and deliberately chosen costumes. The movies characters don deep burgundy tracksuits, zebra dresses with snakeskin stiletto boots, white turtlenecks reminiscent of early black activists, as explained by the film’s costume designer, Shiona Turini to The Cut, costumes specifically chosen based on the film’s moods, the character’s journey, and to represent something that was.
Tracksuits paid homage to 90s hip-hop, whether it was Slim’s velour tracksuit worn throughout the tail end of their run or Uncle Earl’s (Bokeem Woodbine) Dapper Dan original, adding dimension and movement in every possible lighting, especially during their nighttime runs and visually darker scenes.
Moody shots showcase their hot-pursuit from Cleveland down to New Orleans and finally to Florida. Through each scene, more and more is revealed about Queen and Slim, their religious beliefs, family life, and careers, all of which define who each character is at their core.
The film’s director spoke to The Atlantic about her first feature, delving deep into her influences, upbringing, and what drew her to “Queen & Slim” enough to make it her debut silver screen film after a successful career of directing music videos and television for the likes of Beyoncé and Issa Rae.
“I also wanted to showcase black love and unity, not just romantic love,” she told The Atlantic, wanting to shed light on an institution of oppression. “Black unity is our greatest power against oppression. What is represented on-screen is not just the love between those two characters, but the love that the community shows Queen and Slim.”
Matsoukas makes pain beautiful, weaving trauma with love, juxtaposing themes that make “Queen & Slim” what it is, a story of unity amongst affliction.
Photo Credit: @queenandslim