The highly anticipated film, ‘Queen And Slim’, written by the Chicago native Lena Waith (‘The Chi’) and directed by Melina Matsoukas (director for Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’ video) premiered in theatres last week, on Thanksgiving. The film has, since, been met with many mixed reviews, harsh critiques and sitings of what some consider problematic dynamics. Hopefully, by now, it has had time to digest, along with your Aunt’s left-over Mac and cheese, so that we can dive into my subjective and spoiler-filled review.
The opening scene takes place inside a dim-lit diner— a setting that is typically synonymous with romantic comedies like ‘When Harry Met Sally’ and ‘Groundhogs Day’, for example, but can also be associated with the infamous first scene in the somewhat romantic (depending on your level of sanity) crime-drama ‘Natural Born Killers’, where Mickey and Mallory begin their murder-spree. Here, we meet the two main characters, Queen and Slim, who are on thier first date after connecting with one another on the social-dating site, ‘Tinder’, but will soon, like Mickey and Mallory, find themselves, too, on the run from authorities.
The verbal exchange between the two quickly establishes each of their contrasting personalities. Queen, a defense attorney played by Jodie Turner-Smith, clearly possesses a more dominant and firm personality while Slim, a blue-collar worker played by Daniel Kauuya, is more playful with a nonchalant approach to life. Despite their class and personality differences, the two build a fond rapport with one another through flirtatious compliments and witty sarcasm.
Though the two were not equally yoked, financially, Queen, who held the higher paying job with more societal prestige still reluctantly but naturally yearned for indiscriminate companionship from a black man after experiencing a rough day in corporate America. This was a subtle nuance a casual viewer may or may not have overlooked, but one that added an extra layer of depth in their relationship, for me.
After leaving the diner the couple is, presumably, racially profiled and stopped by an overzealous and trigger-happy officer for a minor traffic violation that escalates into a hostile situation. After the officer detains Slim, he brandishes his firearm and ends up shooting Queen in the leg after she attempts to reach for her identification while rushing to the aid of Slim. Slim, then, wrestles with the officer, retrieving his firearm and fatally shoots him in an involuntary yet necessary homicide. This is the action that propels the premise and ignites the plot of which the film is anchored.
Why The Pimp Uncle Was Needed
Queen’s Uncle, played by Bokeem Woodbine, who’s insinuated occupation was an abusive pimp, proved to be a problematic character for many viewers. There’s a scene where he physically assaults one of the many young ladies that reside in his home, and it is also established that he was Queen’s first client as a defense attorney, where she defended him for the murder of her own mother.
In film, there is often a presence of moral as well as social conflicts. Like in life, things in cinema are not “black and white” nor perfect. I didn’t find the character of the Uncle to be problematic nor offensive. I understood that his role was used to highlight how even the worst of people have the ability to posses admirable traits in particular circumstances where they excel. In the Uncle’s case, his area of overachievement was being able to successfully operate in the underworld and below the radar of authorities. Queen and Slim needed a figure like such to assist them in their journey. Queen defended him as a defense attorney in the case where he murdered her mother because she understood that it was an accident like how she needed him to understand them murdering the police officer was an accident.
The Chopping Of The Hair
While laying low at the Uncle’s home, he advises them that they both need to shave and cut their hair in order to alter their appearance. Queen chopping her long and thick braids and Slim cutting his nappy twists, to me, was symbolic of them freeing themselves of an element of their “blackness” that white America often deems as criminal or offensive. Black Americans are often expelled from schools, not hired for work or simply discriminated against for displaying pride in our natural hair. This was another subtle and poetic nuance that added more appreciation to the film, for me.
The Young Cop Killer
Later in the film, there’s a scene where a young boy, the son of a mechanic fixing Queen and Slim’s car, met the two and regarded them as heroes before telling them that he is attending a protest against police later that day. At the protest, the young boy ended up shooting and killing a black officer when friction between officers and the people intensifies. A friend of mine asked why I believe Lena chose to add that scene.
When writing, you want to put the audience in situations they may want to act out or live in real life but don’t want to experience the real life dangers or repercussions. Lena Waithe’s creative choice in having the young boy shoot the cop, I assumed, was so that the audience could release the built-up rage we feel from viewing all the countless videos of cops shooting unarmed blacks. If you recall, as that scene was occurring, Queen and Slim were making love for the first time in their car and climaxing in a back and forth scene cut. Queen and Slim personified the black struggle, and as they physically met together, creating an explosive orgasm, an officer was simultaneously getting his brains blown out. That, too, was a standout and symbolic sequence, for me.
Why A Tragic Ending Was Needed
I imagine the idea of this film was birthed from seeing countless online videos of unarmed blacks being unjustifiably murdered by police during routine traffic stops and the writer, Lena Waithe, creating a “what-if” scenario based on that. In most of these real life incidents, they end tragic. If this film were my real life, I would definitely want it to end different, but, being that films are devices to create social commentary, I believe the ending is a true reflection of the real life issue at hand. This film also helps humanize the victims of such atrocities. As tragic as this ending is, I can’t imagine a better way for Lena to convey that Slim developed such a strong bond and love for Queen after their “first date” than by showing that he didn’t want to continue living without her in his life. The dynamic is similar to the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ archetype, in that regard. What we could imagine happening with them if they boarded the plane and successfully fled to Cuba could be seen on-screen in their previous special on-screen moments like: making love in the car, riding the horse slow-dancing together in the “hole-in-the-wall” bar. Another complaint of the film by some is in regards to the fact that a brother sold the two out for the reward money. I won’t go in-depth with why I believe that dynamic was added, as it can been seen and heard in today’s modern music, politics and media.
In conclusion, ‘Queen and Slim’ was the epitome of a modern day young black love story, with the phrase “black love” being a double entendre. Sitting in the theatre to view a 10pm showing, alone, on a cold and rainy Thanksgiving made me quietly yearn for companionship like that of Queen. The film did a great job of blending two central themes as well as impactful sub-stories and exploring larger underlying subtexts in several scenes. Stylish cinematography, dope music and solid acting brought everything together for a satisfying theatrical experience. The writer, producer and director were surgical with catering to its target audience of the young and black social media generation. Films are designed to evoke emotion and this one does with two contrasting emotions of rage and love.