Queen & Slim (2019)



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Lil Dizzy’s Cafe
New Orleans, Louisiana

If there was only ONE restaurant in New Orleans you could go to…. this would be it!
A microcosm of the city; Southern Naw’lins style hospitality!
And the BEST food….
FIRST: this is the BEST GUMBO. If you wanted to know what grandmother’s Gumbo tasted like, here you go.
SECOND: Addictive Mac’n Cheese. So good!
THIRD: Fried Catfish and Fried Chicken. Order the buffet and have BOTH… too hard to decide. Go back for thirds!
Bread pudding! Wow!”
“The buffet is unbeatable.”
“5 stars for the biscuits alone.”


Black Stories Film Series #26:

“Queen & Slim” (2019) is the debut full-length feature film of director Melina Matsoukas, who previously had built a career as a music video filmmaker known for her work in Beyonce’s “Formation” videos. The screenplay was constructed by Lena Waithe, who can also be seen as an actor on the mini-series “Master of None.” It was developed to depict themes of unrest and police brutality in America, coinciding with the Black Lives Matter movement starting in 2013, when Trayvon Martin’s murderer was acquitted of all charges, following a wave of unarmed black men and women being killed at the hands of the police, and overall lack of accountability or justice following these atrocities. This film expects audiences to understand the realities of inequality served to black Americans which has ingrained fear of police officers, their extraordinary power, and their qualified immunity.

“Queen & Slim” is immediately gripping. From the gate, there is something intriguing about the characters, both quiet, unbothered and honest. They are on a Tinder date at an ordinary local diner. Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) is an accomplished attorney who has had a bad day, and decided she would rather suck it up and go on a date, than be alone. Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) is a religious man who prays before his meal, and asks her why she suddenly stopped ignoring his messages from three weeks ago. They finish eating, and politely get on their way. As he is driving her home, the two are pulled over and what plays out is, unfortunately, all too familiar.

The interaction with the cop outlines a typical, but disgraceful escalation of a non-violent situation. They are pulled over for neglecting to use the turn signal in a timely manner. The officer is insolent from the gate. He takes Slim’s license and registration, and arrogantly reports over his walkie-talkie that it is probably a DUI. Unsatisfied when that  is not the case, he works overtime to find something wrong, searching his trunk, berating him with questions. When Queen interrupts, stating she is a lawyer, and challenges the cops brigade, he whips his pistol at her and shoots. After a struggle, Slim manages to save himself by killing the officer. The two strangers are left with the realization that they will be presumed guilty and take to a life on the run.

The film sort of runs to me like an allegory. It feels as though you are hearing a legend that’s been passed from person to person. The tale is told from a distance, even though we are side by side with our leads. It’s mystical, inflated, surreal and cool.

Alongside Queen and Slim’s life on the run, we see through snippets as a racial divide breaks out across America. Protests take to the streets in response to the dash-cam footage being viewed all over the Internet. Many see that it could have been them. They see that Slim would have been killed if the cop didn’t die first. They see that the cop shot Queen in the leg unnecessarily. They see that the two were unarmed and innocent when the scene began. But the other half of America sees the simple fact that two black people killed a cop and are now “armed and dangerous.”

The pair (who oft are compared to “Bonnie & Clyde” which is a far too simplistic comparison and fully misses the point) weave there through small town America, taking up shelter where good people lend a helping hand, as though they have found the modern day Underground Railroad.

The film is un-apologetically black, and refuses to give screen time to white people for the sake of it, much less paint any of them as heroes. It’s refreshing. Each person of color whom they encounter quietly understands. They receive nods, free drinks with the phrase, “Don’t worry, you’re safe here.” One woman throws a solemn salutation while they pass each other on the dance floor.

It is beautifully shot, unsurprisingly, with Matsoukas music video background. With the help of Tad Radkliffe, “Queen & Slim” is constructed with stunning landscapes and lingering portrait shots. At times, the film can feel pretentious, though, with sensational dialogue and placated choices. It plays it safe. It is not as raw, visceral or emotive as it could be. It fails to dig into the characters in a really pointed way. It keeps them almost frustratingly ethereal. However, these seemed like an intentional storytelling choices as a way of presenting it as folklore; an allegory. It is a modern day mythical tale of two black heroes, who stood their ground in the face of evil, who kept their dignity and ignited a revolution. It elevates them to represent a movement. Who were they before this? Does anyone really know?


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