Queen & Slim is less the “black Bonnie and Clyde” and more Thelma and Louise—the story of two people and split-second choices with fateful consequences.
The two meet on a Tinder date somewhere in Cleveland. The cold outside mirrors the chilly atmosphere at the table; it’s obvious even before the food arrives that there’s little chance of a second date. The stilted conversation reveals that he works at Costco; she’s a defense attorney whose client was just handed the death penalty. He prays before he eats; she doesn’t believe in God.
There’s a bit of banter as he drives her home, which distracts him and causes him to “fail to execute a turn signal,” according to the white police officer who pulls them over. The tension quickly builds in a scene that feels all-too-familiar in 2019. There’s a scuffle, and he shoots the cop with the cop’s own gun.
“We have to run,” she observes. It’s something that goes against everything she believes as a lawyer, but he’s a young black man who just shot and killed a police officer. Wrongly or rightly, he’s almost certain to spend the rest of his life in prison if he turns himself in.
Hours before, they were complete strangers, thrown together by an algorithm. Now, they’re trying to outrun the law.
The conclusion is inevitable, the one we expect walking in. But Melina Matsoukas ensures we don’t walk away without thinking.
Slim’s accidental shooting of a police officer stokes the preexisting racial tensions in the U.S., inspiring marches and protests. Overnight, they become a symbol of black power, of standing up to corruption and refusing to be pushed around. Far from jeopardizing them in their flight, their notoriety proves to be an asset. Nevertheless, it’s not something they seek, want, or exploit. In many ways, they’re shocked by and shun it, only wanting to make it to Florida—and then to Cuba—alive.
Despite the heavy subject matter, Queen & Slim is a tender film, as much a love story as anything. The pacing is exquisite, in many ways mirroring the emotions and experiences of our protagonists—fast and occasionally frantic through the first half, it slows down and breathes through the second, even as the plot itself continues to build.
Mild spoilers ahead
Despite the title, one of the most notable elements of the film is the fact that Queen and Slim are never referred to as such—and their given names are only revealed at the end. It’s as if to say, how often do we ignore the plight of our black brothers and sisters—systemic oppression, implicit bias, and pervasive racism—until the moment when such tensions turn violent and make headlines?
At one point, Slim asks a young boy to take a picture of him and Queen. Initially, she protests. But he persists: “I want proof we were here.”
This isn’t the only memorable line (I’m thinking of you, “Show me scars I never knew I had…”) but it’s the one that’s stuck with me the most, for I think it sums up the film the best.
All any of us want is to be seen and known.
It’s just that, in the United States in 2019, this happens to be easier for some than others—and that ease or lack thereof is still largely contingent on the color of one’s skin.