QUEEN & SLIM is the directorial debut of Melina Mastsoukas, with a screenplay by Lena Waithe. The film tells the story of a black couple’s first date which takes an unexpected turn when they become victims of police harassment. In an act of self-defense, an officer is killed, and the couple (played by Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith) literally becomes America’s Most Wanted. With very little options available, they feel they have no choice but to run and evade the law.
Before I express my thoughts and opinions on the film, I’d like to give you a little more background on myself. I am a 42-year-old Black American male. I grew up in a pro-law enforcement home as my father is a (now) retired secret service agent. Despite this fact, when I was in my 20’s, I was the victim of endless police harassment while living in northwest New Jersey. Almost weekly, I would get pulled over and interrogated. However, once they realized they had nothing on me, I would always be set free. On one of these now routine harassment stops, I was not met with the usual “license and registration” request, but with “Put your hands where I can see them and slowly exit the vehicle.”
There I was, a person who had never committed a crime in his life, being treated like a common street thug. I was in the middle of a suburban neighborhood in the early evening. Children were playing in the streets and families were walking their dogs. What seemed to be a gathering of at least 20 people all stopped and watched me be humiliated and dehumanized, as I was publicly searched for weapons and drugs, two things I definitely did not have in my possession. After the search came up short, I was told to wait in my car, where I sat for almost an hour while this “protector of the people” tried to come up with something he could pin on me.
When he finally returned to my car, he had concocted this absurd story about how it looked like I was going to the house of someone in the witness relocation program, and when he ran my plates, it turned out that my car was registered in the same city that the witness was from. Obviously, that story had more holes in it than Swiss cheese, particularly the part where an officer of the law informed some random person where someone in the witness relocation program lived.
So now, I’d imagine you have a pretty good idea of my mindset as I watched the first 10 minutes of QUEEN & SLIM. I saw two people who were polar opposites on a boring date abruptly have their evening interrupted by police harassment. I watched a law-abiding pushover be treated like a common criminal. And at the first sign of slight frustration for being put in this situation, I watched a weapon being drawn upon that person, and I couldn’t help but think how easily that could have been me.
To say I was engaged throughout the film would be an understatement. I felt like this was actually happening to me. Although I never would have handled the situation the way the character did, I was along for the ride and this ride took me somewhere I did not expect to go. The outer layers of QUEEN & SLIM are full of social commentary, but once you remove those layers and look deep inside, the film is actually an indie-style drama. It told the story of two people with nothing in common, organically falling in love while not knowing if they would live to see the next day. It’s about being pushed out of your comfort zone, while already being pushed out of your comfort zone.
But most of all, it’s about finding the beauty in life while surrounded by so much ugliness. Even with the constant threat of death, in several environments of depressing, extreme poverty and abandonment, the couple was able to evolve their extreme personalities until they perfectly complemented each other. The beauty inside of the ugliness theme was pushed to its limits during a powerful scene which showed the tenderness between the couple spliced together simultaneously with one of the most horrific moments of the film.
With all of this tension throughout the film, there are moments of relief through humor. Several of the characters they encounter along the way were so blunt and over-the-top that in any other circumstance it would be hard to find the humor in their actions. But somehow, I couldn’t help but literally laugh out loud at some of the things coming out of their mouths, but then again, maybe I have a warped sense of humor. Also amusing were the cameo appearances of Flea (from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Chloë Sevigny. Although there was nothing funny about the scenes that their characters were in, it was very unexpected to see those two show up in a film virtually filled with unknown actors.
I’d like to applaud Universal Pictures for releasing such an uncommercial film out to the masses. A 130-minute social commentary indie drama doesn’t necessarily scream mass appeal, but the conversation that this film will start can make a huge positive impact on our country, and on the world.
Overall, I found QUEEN & SLIM to be a display of masterful filmmaking. It was a beautiful story, set in the ugliest circumstances, that was executed flawlessly. QUEEN & SLIM is easily one of the best films I’ve ever seen and a fantastic example of the power of cinema. QUEEN & SLIM will be released nationwide on November 27 and is rated R.