Outlaw couples have always found a home in cinema. From Bonnie and Clyde (dir. Arthur Penn, 1967) to Thelma and Louise (dir. Ridley Scott, 1991), viewers have often found themselves rooting for the criminal. The common denominator of these films is the fact the crimes were executed accidentally or with reason – something we know will not necessarily grant them innocence in court. Director Melina Matsoukas takes this concept and gives it a political spin, more relevant today than ever. Just as Thelma and Louise was a milestone movie for feminism, Queen and Slim adopts the power of film to expose the harsh reality of racism.
There is something deeply unsettling about the sound of police sirens in a film starring a black cast-list. The blue lights begin to flash and suddenly, your heart sinks. We all know what’s coming next. The very nature of this reaction speaks volumes of modern society, with the link between racism and police brutality being very real and very tragic. The sweeping American landscapes and picturesque sunsets may be a gift for cinematographer Tat Radcliffe, however the US setting only worsens matters for our protagonists. As Queen and Slim (Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya) navigate across state lines, the manhunt deepens its roots in prejudice – police gathering from all corners of America to seek them out.
Matsoukas’s intimate portrait of one couple’s subjugation to prejudice acts as a microcosm for racism in America. Queen and Slim evolve both as characters and as a pair, forming a deep and beautiful connection that only makes their bravery more powerful to witness. Queen is a feisty and intelligent attorney who prefers her own company to others, whereas Slim is a happy-go-lucky family man, desperate to go back home. Together, the odd ball couple grow and develop into fully formed characters that viewers are constantly rooting for. But the story is about more than just them. Matsoukas branches off into contextual subplots, showing the ripple effect of the couple’s actions. “Power to the people!”, street riots and police raids all in engage in a broader depiction of racism, allegorising our urgent need for change.
As a film, Queen and Slim is a seductively stylish artwork, bursting with glamour and charisma. Matsoukas’s road movie harbours the intimacy of an indie flick but with the impact of a blockbuster; paying a close eye to detail while brimming with suspense. The storyline is raw and cathartic, dotted with humorous moments to add a sense of realism and comic relief. Queen and Slim’s desire to live – not just survive – is somewhat inspirational (if a little detrimental to their escape plan). A trendy soundtrack and long overdue exhibition of black talent help to make Matsoukas’s directional debut a stunning success; her daring artistic choices executed with confidence and flair.
If you enjoyed George Tillman Jr.’s drama The Hate U Give, or Barry Jenkins If Beale Street Could Talk, be sure to catch Queen and Slim in theatres from January 31st.