Image from IMDb
‘Queen & Slim’ is a beautiful black love story that grows from tragedy and trauma
Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers to Queen and Slim.
Upon seeing trailers of the depicted black Bonnie & Clyde movie set to release in November 2019, I was already on board. I had my doubts, though. For one, it was a depiction of yet another black tragedy. So, I knew I would leave that theatre crying, frustrated, and angry not only because of white society’s impact on us as a culture, but the never-ending stories that are always a few pages too short. And although I did leave that theatre crying, frustrated and probably a lot angrier than I could have imagined, there was power in my tears and love that I developed for this black couple, mainly because within them, I saw myself.
Crafted by the minds of Lena Waithe and Melina Matsoukas, this pair definitely created a rather thrilling and homey story that leaves the audience asking “What now?” With Waithe’s previous productions (The Chi, Master of None), it was no surprise that this movie would capture the questions of identity and purpose.
Similarly, Matsoukas’ past work with music videos for known celebrities like Beyoncé and Solange, as well as her directing for HBO’s Insecure, her style fit this movie like no other. In the story of Queen and Slim (their real names are not released until the very end via broadcast), two black individuals meet on a last-minute Tinder date, filled with the unlikeness of a second. With Queen (played by the newly introduced Jodie Turner-Smith) being standoffish and distracted, she was not impressed with Slim’s (Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya) sincerity and basicness. The date, ending on an awkward note, led to the two ending their own nights. But not without one of the many climaxes of the movie hitting the audience first.
Breathtaking cinematography with fashion that spoke for itself
After Slim’s tussle with the cop, played by Sturgill Smith, the wide-angle overhead shot capturing this moment reeled me in. It was a beautiful, almost overwhelming power that the audience had received; it was as if we were playing God in their worlds, watching them reach an inevitable doom, but holding their hands as they rose through it all. The most notable and euphoric scene, thanks to the cinematographer, Tat Radcliffe, shows the two protagonists dancing in the midst of a juke joint, as a country-soul artist strummed his guitar. The camera swirled around their heads, a slow zoom giving us our first encounter with their infatuation with one another. As close-ups of hands clapping and fingers snapping filled the screen, it was the first time we called them heroes.
Throughout the film, there were many situations where tight shots made me feel anxious. As Slim gripped the steering wheel of Uncle Earl’s Catalina and rode off into the dreamy, Louisiana weather, I saw the worry on their faces. The wide shots made me free and relaxed. When Queen stuck her head out of the window, the fresh air slapping her face, I saw extensions of the bright blue water and undisturbed sky. The audience felt safe, and almost forget that this story was on the basis of two outlaws on the run for their lives.
From Adidas jumpsuits, knee-length fur coats, and old-school patterns that screamed 70s disco, Matsoukas showed that the clothing of our characters was an integral aspect of the film. The snakeskin boots that Queen threw on after fleeing and her cream turtleneck, along with the addition of her freshly cropped layer of curls, was not only symbolic to the tone of this movie, but also to the natural hair community; cutting her hair was her symbol of being free. It made it feel nostalgic and as if we were watching some classic hidden on your grandmother’s shelf. The grainy, Atlanta-y vibe gave the impression that the timeline of this film was ambiguous, but we were all present. The most iconic moment for the film, in regard to fashion, was at the funeral of our beloved protagonists. Uncle Earl, the biggest fashion icon of the film, sported Gucci sweatsuits patterned with bright gold rings on every finger throughout the movie but transitioned to a fur-lined black parka longline coat that was a signature of his personality. Using elements of Blaxploitation and inspiration from Jamel Shabazz’s “Back in the Days,” we felt eternally in the moment.
A well-paced journey that keeps you on the edge of your seat
On this journey of escaping their town, we find ourselves in the backseat of their dangerous and downright exhilarating run from Ohio to the edge of Florida. From bickering and yelling at one another on their way to Louisiana to becoming vulnerable and open on their trip through Georgia, we see these two characters evolve and become lovers (whether it be because of codependency or actually falling in love, we don’t know). The reality of the situation is that these two entirely different people would have probably never seen each other’s faces again if not for this. Whether that be fate is a question you answer yourself, but the legacy they leave behind is immortal for everyone involved.
Slim’s obedient and simple-minded approach to life changed dramatically and with Queen’s uptight demeanor long gone, we see these two characters become free. From dodging an array of different police officers to hiding under the bed of a white family’s home, we get closer and closer to the moment where we all just want to put our hands up and abandon the chase. But each time, there is some larger force that steps in. Uncle Earl and his “lady friends” help them barely escape; to the black police officer who just simply let them go. And this most beautiful thing about this escape is that they had times to laugh and cry and be brave when they didn’t think they were able to.
And as much as the winding road of ups and downs came and went for our two protagonists, all journeys must come to an end. With our adrenaline pumping from the moment that these beautiful people finally get to fly away from their problems, we see the red and blue of countless police cars swarm in. Our hearts dropped and as many happy tears we shed during the other scenes, nothing could compare to this moment. As the bullet went through Queen’s (now revealed as Angela) heart, I felt my own heart breaking. As Slim (Earnest) picked up her limp body and walked toward his death, I realized that this story could not die with them. This love story represented all the black people in the world who could instantly become convicts. It is a reminder that we never get to choose if we become paragons or pariahs, dead or alive. This movie, this experience and this cast of lovers is an infinite conceptualization of the ability to love when you have nothing left. This film, although new, feels as if it has been strung along the way all along, but we just couldn’t see it. Throughout all the violence and loss and hurt and pain, it has been here the entire time. But now that we do see it, we can’t let it go. And that makes this story immortal.
Featured Image: IMDb
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