REVIEW: How ‘Queen & Slim’ Reflects the Black Experience

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Spoiler Warning: This review contains commentary on the ending of Queen & Slim.

Queen & Slim

First dates always seem to be awkward, no matter what either party involved does. For Queen and Slim, a super awkward first date is the least of their worries by the end of the night. When a Black man, played by Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya, and a Black woman, played by Jodie Turner-Smith, are pulled over for a minor traffic violation, the situation quickly escalates when a White police officer becomes more angry and combative by the minute. When he suddenly aims his gun at Slim and demands him to get on his knees and put his hands on his head, Queen, demands to know why he is under arrest and the cop aims his gun at her. As she reaches for her phone to record the situation, he shoots her. Scared for their lives and left with no other choice, Slim kills the police officer in self-defense.

With the officer dead and the entire exchange recorded on the police car’s dashcam, the two strangers, him a retail employee and her a criminal justice lawyer, go on the run. Soon, the dashcam footage goes viral and they unintentionally become the figures of grief, pain, and trauma for countless people across the country. As they run away, leaving everything behind, they embark on a journey together where they connect and forge a deep bond of trust while enduring the most dangerous circumstances. 

Queen  & Slim, is directed by the two-time Grammy award-winning director Melina Matsoukas, the filmmaker behind pop culture smash hits like HBO’s Insecure, and Beyonce’s Formation. The screenplay is written by Emmy-winning writer, producer, and actress Lena Waithe, creator of Showtime’s The Chi.

Queen & Slim

At the beginning of Queen & Slim, it is very obvious that our non-couple do not share an ounce of chemistry between one another. It feels like they exist in separate worlds and if it wasn’t for Tinder, they might have never met one another. Had it not been for the evening taking a turn for the worse, then they might have just parted ways, never to see each other again. It’s through their unexpected and treacherous roadtrip that they develop a deeper bond with one another. 

It’s Kaluuya and Turner-Smith’s impressive acting and chemistry with one another that sells each scene between their characters. Whether the scene calls for them to be bickering about how loudly Slim chews his food or the non-verbal exchanges they share through stolen looks and supportive touches, they give one another, Kaluuya and Turner-Smith’s magnificent performances allow them to go from scenes of not being able to stand one another to connecting in scenes with little to no words. One scene in particular stands out. Queen and Slim take a detour to a Mississippi bar to go dancing, on what Slim says what their second date would have been. The way they touch, hold, and move with one another would make you think they are just another lovestruck couple, enjoying one another’s company. Authentically in love and not on the run.

Waithe has stated that this new film is a form of “protest art” and that it allows her to express the current Black experience. The filmmakers accomplish this in many ways. One, in particular, is through the locations they chose for Queen & Slim to take place in. The setting of the story starts in Cleveland, Ohio, a place of significance because it is also the place where Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy, was shot and killed in 2014 by a white police officer. One of the many names that have played a significant role in motivating the #BlackLivesMatter movement. In addition to emphasizing Cleveland, the filmmakers also intentionally include locations like the backwoods of Mississippi and New Orleans on Queen and Slim’s roadtrip, highlighting the significance these places have to the current Black experience.

But it isn’t just places, that is used to expressing our experience. When the duo is pulled over by the cop, their fear is our fear. Try to make sure you don’t move too quickly and make sure not to say the wrong thing just in case you come across a trigger happy police officer that may perceive the way you talk, move, or look like a threat. This fear and hyper-vigilance is something many Black people can relate to on some level.

To this day, I remember when my parents sat my sisters and me down to give us the “talk.” The talk where they tell us how we should behave if the police ever stopped us. Throughout my life, so far, I’ve been stopped by the police maybe less than four times, but one sticks with me. I was in the car with my friends during a cold Chicago day. The car’s heat didn’t work and it was freezing outside, so we pulled our hoodies on our heads. Then, less than a few blocks away from our destination, we pass by a cop car. We thought nothing of it at first, that is, until we saw him do a u-turn and signal for us to pull over.

My initial reaction was similar to Queen’s. I wanted to question the officer more. I wanted him to admit to racially profiling us, just because we were Black and had hoodies on in our car. To which he said that we shouldn’t wear our hoodies in the car because it looked like “we might be up to something.” I was furious, But then, just like Slim, I pushed the anger and frustration down because I was worried what might have happened had one of said the wrong thing.

Queen & Slim

I appreciated that the filmmakers created the titular characters as multifaceted representations of Black people, specifically when it comes to allowing them to be vulnerable. I feel it is all too common for Black characters in film to be denied the opportunity to have more than one layer. I’m glad to say that Queen & Slim gives us layers with these characters, which allows them to be more representative of Black people. We see this in Queen. When we are first introduced to her, she comes off as this strong, take-charge kind of person. She puts so much pressure on herself to have all of the answers. However, when she reaches her breaking point she admits that she is scared and doesn’t know what to do. I appreciate that she is allowed to be vulnerable and show this side of herself.  Her vulnerability doesn’t make her weak, and it makes her human.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the films ending. By the end of our characters’ journey, it feels like their happily ever after is within their grasp as they finally arrive at the plane that would take them to Cuba, their end destination akin to Assata Shakur’s path. There, Queen and Slim could finally be free with one another. But, just as they begin to walk towards the plane, hope in their eyes, it is snatched away from as a squadron of police cars come zooming in behind them. The hopeful expressions on their faces quickly change to utter despair as they turn around and come to the realization that this was how their journey would end.

Instead of immediately surrendering to the police, they choose to link their hands together and express their love for one another. It is in the middle of their exchange that Queen is shot and killed instantly. Her lifeless form falls beside Slim who drops to the ground to hold her in his arms as he mourns her sudden death. Now emboldened by her death and refusing to abandon her, Slim picks her up and carries her towards the police. As if on a suicide mission, he ignores the police’s warnings to stop and walks towards, knowing that they will shoot him if he continues any further. And that is just what happened, Slim dies with Queen in his arms. In death, they are memorialized in a mural, as a symbol of inspiration to the Black community.

Queen & Slim

Having watched Queen and Slim’s journey from the beginning it is natural root for them and hope that everything turns out for best. But it is clear that Queen & Slim is not that kind of movie. There is no happily ever after and it is heartbreaking when you realize that this was the only way Queen & Slim could end. If I’m being honest my initial reaction towards the ending was anger. Queen and Slim’s deaths remind me so much of other Black people, like Charles Kinsey or Philando Castile, who were not armed, or showing any signs of being threats to police, but were still shot and killed because they were perceived to be dangerous. I can’t help but wonder if that was the intention the filmmakers had behind this scene. They give an accurate depiction of how Black people are seen as threats, even when they are unarmed and not doing anything threatening. While the ending is not the one I had hoped for the characters, I’m at least glad that Queen and Slim were able to share their last moments embracing one another and expressing their love and support for one another. 

Queen & Slim is an instant classic that does a superb job of capturing the current Black experience that Black people can relate to while also giving the audience multifaceted representatives of Black characters. Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith give an amazing performance together that captivates the audience with their chemistry.  This is a film that will have audiences talking about it for years to come.

Rating: 9/10

Queen & Slim
  • 9/10
    'Queen & Slim - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

Queen & Slim is an instant classic that does a superb job of capturing the current Black experience that Black people can relate to while also giving the audience multifaceted representatives of Black characters. Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith give an amazing performance together that captivates the audience with their chemistry.  This is a film that will have audiences talking about it for years to come.

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