I’m a straight, white male. This puts me into the most privileged category of people on the planet and it means there are a multitude of experiences in the world that I know very little or even nothing about. Life as an African-American is something I only have knowledge of through TV, movies and music. But I don’t really know what it’s like day-to-day, to live in the US and suffer racial prejudice. Queen and Slim is a film that shows exactly what that’s like when everything goes wrong, in the worst way possible.
Queen and Slim opens simply enough. We join Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) on a Tinder date in a rundown diner. Things start awkwardly when Slim receives the wrong order and Queen wants to complain. He stops her, explaining that the waitress works more than one job and is just trying to feed her kids.
These opening scenes set the tone for the film as small, personal and quiet moments punctuate what’s to come.
Queen and Slim Review
Queen explains that she sought out company because her client has been sentenced to death by the State. While the date isn’t a success, the pair bond. As Slim is driving her home, a police officer pulls him over for driving erratically and things rapidly spiral out of control.
Film and TV are rife with references to being pulled over by a cop being one of the most dangerous situations for a young black man to find himself in. In Queen and Slim, it rings true. After the situation escalates, Queen and Slim find themselves on the run and wanted for the murder of the officer.
Once Queen and Slim hit the road, the movie shifts into a road film. Characters barely have time to interact with them before they’re moving on, attempting to stay one step ahead and desperately not wanting to be caught.
Both Turner-Smith and Kaluuya deliver incredibly nuanced and real performances as the two leads. The gradual realisation that their lives are effectively over and the hope with which they keep pushing forwards is always at the fore. You get the sense that even though they’re running from the law, they’re trying to keep things as ‘normal’ as possible.
And it’s in the quiet moments that occur that we see this. When they stop to have their car fixed and interact with a young black teenager. When they stop at the side of the road so Slim can ride a horse or when they lean out of the car window to feel the sea breeze, these moments are their last moments of freedom and real life.
The film also examines the Black Lives Matter movement, though only briefly. Queen and Slim’s plight has become national news and demonstrators take to the street to express their support for the duo. Their actions have caused a seismic shift in the public consciousness and there is inevitably more blood on their hands than that of the officer they killed.
Interestingly, Queen and Slim doesn’t shy away from having black characters condemn the actions of the two leads either. Characters express their distaste for violence and their fear that what Queen and Slim have done will only lead to more of the same.
There’s no ‘right’ answer in this film.
What does seem deliberate on the part of the filmmakers is that there are very, very few ‘good’ white characters. From the police officer in the opening to the creepy gas station attendant and the FBI Agents hunting Queen and Slim, white characters are almost universally unlikable. And that’s the point.
The one exception is the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea. He has a small but important role in the second half.
In fact, there are few white characters in general. This film is overwhelmingly populated by people of colour and the few times white characters do appear, they are an anomaly both tonally and in their attitude. This isn’t a film examining the lives of racial minorities through the lens of white privilege. White people have a very minor role to play in this story and this is of antagonist.
It’s unsettling to watch a movie and not see yourself represented on screen, or worse still, to see you represented as the enemy. It’s uncomfortable but must only be a fraction of how people of colour feel when watching any number of films. Queen and Slim makes the decision to remove white characters from the film and from the conversation because they have no place in it.
Symbolism is also used rather frequently in Queen and Slim with music playing a particularly important role. However, it’s the scene that sees Slim riding a horse that stands out. In a field of dark coloured horses, one lone white horse strides to the fence and Slim clambers on top. The white shines against the dry grass and the blue sky and Slim’s dark skin contrasts with the horse’s white body.
It’s a powerful visual.
Queen and Slim is gripping, intelligent and incredibly important. It’s a film that has a powerful message and it’s one that needs to be seen and shared. It’s important to share stories from those you have no understanding of and of worlds you have no connection to.
This is one of those stories for me. While I might not understand Queen and Slim’s lives, I can empathise with their story and learn from this film.
Queen and Slim is a must-see film of 2020 and a brilliant piece of cinema.
Movie title: Queen and Slim