A love story sparks a social movement in “Queen & Slim.”
Directed by Melina Matsoukas and written by Lena Waithe, the romantic drama thriller is set to hit theaters Wednesday. Waithe displays her masterful writing skills as the film explores police brutality alongside a beautiful love story, creating a message centered on vulnerability and humanity. As Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) become wanted fugitives and learn to lean on each other, the film balances action and romance to present a story that is equally thrilling as it is heart-wrenching.
When a first date between Queen and Slim takes a sharp and sudden turn as they are pulled over by a police officer, the film takes its first dive into one of the United States’ most pervasive issues. When Slim grabs the officer’s gun and kills him in self-defense, the story becomes rooted in the country’s history of racial discrimination and police brutality. This scene sets the tone for the remainder of the film, as it highlights the stakes involved when two African Americans are on the run from the police.
As the two protagonists embark on a journey to escape arrest, the film genuinely reflects the current atmosphere of our own world. The people they meet along the way embody the gamut of reactions people often have in the face of police brutality – they either ally themselves with Queen and Slim or they look upon them as murderers. Knowing the varying reactions, it is heartwarming when Queen and Slim find themselves in a primarily black bar, coming across their first taste of freedom as they find themselves among allies.
Kaluuya and Turner-Smith only amplify the already-high emotions at the core of Waithe’s script. Most notably known for his role in “Get Out,” Kaluuya brings his enticing emotional range to Slim. Opposite to him is Queen, who is more pragmatic and logical. This difference slows the romance of the film, making their eventual relationship that much more gratifying as they struggle to find ways to help each other cope with the murder.
As Queen becomes more vulnerable and Slim more sympathetic, their romance unfolds in small moments in which they challenge and accept each other, such as when Queen persuades Slim to ride a horse they found along the road as she recounts a childhood memory. Kaluuya and Turner-Smith’s chemistry is undeniable as they come to the end of the road, unable to escape the consequences of their actions. However, the chaos of the intense police chase practically becomes background noise as the real question becomes whether or not their love will survive in the end.
The beauty of the romance is further illuminated by the visual effects, which are a testament to Matsoukas’ skill as a director. Known for her work on Beyoncé’s “Formation” music video, Matsoukas brings her artistry to the table as the color palette of each scene matches the present emotions. The colors become brighter and warmer as the film progresses, reflecting Slim and Queen’s developing love story.
Matsoukas’ choice of orange and blue hues also manages to capture the nostalgic essence of road trips, adding depth to the scenes where Queen and Slim are confronted by America’s empty and rural landscapes. When Queen sticks her body out of a moving car with the sun rising in the background, she seems childlike, and the moment expertly reflects her newfound ability to find joy in small moments. Scenes showing such sheer joy and grace demonstrate their desire to find hope in a world that is against them.
Much of the film’s emotional depth, however, rests on its response to the killings of unarmed African Americans by the police. The context deepens the story’s message of love and community in Queen and Slim’s road toward freedom. They bring viewers along in their search for a community that can come together in the face of tragedy.
Powerful and poignant, Matsoukas and Waithe present a love story that depicts what it means to accept a person’s flaws and find even the smallest dose of tranquillity amid dire situations.