It has been hard to avoid the recent uproar that has plagued America. Police brutality towards people of colour has only grown in recent years, with the popularity of social media sites, like Twitter, only increasing the number of people outraged by it. The recent release of the black written and directed Queen & Slim, showed just how prevalent it is within marginalised communities in the United States.
The movie follows a couple, as a Tinder date turns into an altercation with a racist police officer and the shooting of that same policeman. Suddenly, the couple are on the run, swerving the law with the help of their own community.
As the couple walk into Queen’s Uncle’s house, they’re greeted with a new nickname. “Well, if it isn’t the black Bonnie and Clyde.” Not an unrealistic description, the couple look at each other with nervous eyes: ones that know they like it, but don’t know if they should. The chemistry between leads Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya is palpable from the start of its running time, all the way through until the end. Considering they have only just met, their differences are stark, but melt away as they venture further and further into the fugitive lifestyle.
As much as this is a film about the systemic racism that plagues the American (and, arguably, many other Western countries) justice system, it’s also about not letting life pass you by. As Queen and Slim navigate their new life on the run, they start to become careless: stopping at the side of the road to ride horses, going for dances in dive bars. They just want to live their life.
This need to live is a theme that runs throughout the film. It’s almost as intense as their relationship: going from a Tinder date to their ride or die in the space of a few days. However, this idea of living life to the fullest takes Queen & Slim from a beautiful crime drama, to being a little bit twee.
That’s not to say that some scenes are necessary. If anything, the bar scene is one of the solidifying moments in the film: it’s the first time the couple feel safe since the crime. It’s a truly harrowing moment, however, as it’s a completely black bar. It’s a true signifier of the divide between white and black in the United States, and the true blindness that can occur because of it. Had there been no inequality, they wouldn’t have been pulled over in the first place.
One thing that really speaks to the audience is Lena Waithe’s beautiful script. It grasps the hardship, the passion and the immorality of the police force as though it is second nature. How both Queen and Slim are written is so different, that it’s clear that they are both their own individual person, rather than a cut out of something that already was. It is obvious that this is written by someone who is a part of the black community – the understanding it presents is something that cannot be mimicked, and it’s refreshing and exciting that people of colour are finally being given the opportunity to have their stories told.
What comes with a new and innovative script, must be new and innovative directing; fabulous Melina Matsoukas brings it to the table, breathing a breath of fresh air into the stifled and dusty world of crime drama. Her storytelling is visceral: straight from the heart, lungs, mind. It comes from people, rather than being a figment of imagination, and it works in a way that really helps to bring the characters and their backstories to life.
The excruciating final scene is a testament to this. The sheer heartbreak you feel, not just for the lead actors, but also everyone else who has helped them along the way, is abounding. The drama trickles through every scene, from the shock of gunfire to the tears shed by those who helped them along the way. It’s an ending that is an attestation to the talent that these filmmakers and writers have. It picks you up, and throws you right into the ground again with immeasurable force.
With a topic that some may class as controversial, Queen & Slim pushes the boundaries of what a crime drama can be. From uncontained passion, to the sadness of an ending that just cheats you out of your security, you leave this film feeling different. It awakens a grief inside of you, an anger. It leaves you heartbroken.