While on a forgettable first date together in Ohio, a black man and a black woman are pulled over for a minor traffic infraction. The situation escalates, with sudden and tragic results, when the man kills the police officer in self-defense. Terrified and in fear for their lives, the man, a retail employee, and the woman, a criminal defense lawyer, are forced to go on the run. But the incident is captured on video and goes viral, and the couple unwittingly become a symbol of trauma, terror, grief and pain for people across the country.
_**A powerful socio-political statement disguised as a road-movie**_
>_We'd never talked about it, but I figured you knew the rules. If a cop stopped, you didn't run, you didn't talk back, you didn't ever, ever get angry. White people could do that – hell, they could shoot up a church and then ask for Burger King – but not us. We got killed at traffic stops for speeding, for having broken taillights, for knowing our rights._
>_Protest is telling the truth in public. Sometimes protest is telling the truth to a public that isn't quite ready to h__ear it. Protest is, in its own way, a storytelling. We use our bodies, our words, our art, and our sounds both to tell the truth about the pain that we endure and to demand the justice that we know is possible. It is meant to build and to force a response._
Oakland CA, January 1, 2009; 22-year-old Oscar Grant was shot and killed by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Officer Johannes Mehserle after being involved in a fight on a train. Mehserle was ultimately found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and not guilty of second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to two years, minus time served, and was released on parole after 11 months.
Santa Rosa CA, October 22, 2013; 13-year-old Andy Lopez was shot and killed by Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff Erick Gelhaus as he carried an airsoft replica of an AK-47. No charges were brought against Gelhaus.
Staten Island NY, July 17, 2014; 44-year-old Eric Garner was allegedly selling single cigarettes illegally and was placed in a chokehold by NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo. Whilst in the hold, Garner said "_I can't breathe_" 11 times, but Pantaleo only released the hold when Garner passed out. He died an hour later. The medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide but a grand jury decided not to indict Pantaleo.
Beavercreek OH, August 5, 2014; 12-year-old John Crawford III was shot and killed by Beavercreek PD Officer Sean Williams as he was playing with a BB gun. A grand jury decided not to indict Williams.
Cleveland OH, August 9, 2014; 18-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by Cleveland PD Officer Timothy Loehmann as he was playing with a toy gun. Loehmann was fired when police learned he had hidden from them that he had been deemed emotionally unstable and unfit for duty. Although Municipal Court Judge Ronald B. Adrine felt Loehmann should be charged with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide, and dereliction of duty, a grand jury decided not to indict him.
North Charleston CA, April 4, 2015; 50-year-old Walter Scott was shot and killed by North Charleston PD Officer Michael Slager after a traffic stop for a broken taillight. Slager was ultimately sentenced to 20 years for second-degree murder.
Falcon Heights MN, July 6, 2016; 32-year-old Philando Castile was shot and killed by St. Anthony PD Officer Jeronimo Yanez as he was reaching for his ID during a traffic stop. His death was live-streamed on Facebook by his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds. Yanez was charged with second-degree manslaughter and the dangerous discharge of a firearm, but he was acquitted of all charges.
And they're just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.
White police officers killing (often innocent) black men is something we've seen much of in recent years, and it's been represented in films such as Ryan Coogler's _Fruitvale Station_ (2013); George Tillman Jr.'s _The Hate U Give_ (2018), Reinaldo Marcus Green's _Monsters and Men_ (2018); Steve McQueen's _Widows_ (2018); and Nate Parker's _American Skin_ (2019). And to that list you can now add _Queen & Slim_, albeit with an asterisk, because here, it's a black man killing a white police officer. But, and this is a key point, he does so only in self-defence. Embracing the notion that Black Lives very much Matter, the film is something of a stealth social commentary insofar as it wears the disguise of the classic genre template of a duo on the run à la films such as Nicholas Ray's _They Live By Night_ (1950), Arthur Penn's _Bonnie and Clyde_ (1967), Terrence Malick's _Badlands_ (1973), or Ridley Scott's _Thelma and Louise_ (1991). And it works perfectly well as a taut road-movie. However, underneath the genre elements, you'll find a condemnation of a criminal justice system that seemingly targets minorities, a celebration of black unity and cultural vibrancy, and an examination of Trump's divided America. It's not an angry diatribe per se, certainly not in the sense that some of Spike Lee's films are, but it does attempt to Speak Truth to Power and it is fundamentally of the moment. It also happens to be a very fine film, albeit a little too long and with some strange tonal inconsistencies.
Queen (a superb debut performance by model Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (a brilliant Daniel Kaluuya) are on a date, having met on Tinder. However, things are not going especially well, as they quickly discover they have virtually nothing in common. He works at Costco, is a devout Christian, and wants a family; she's an atheistic defence attorney with no filter for her often acerbic comments, and has no interest in raising a family. As the date ends, Slim drives Queen home, partly as an act of chivalry, partly because he's hoping for sex, but on the way, he accidentally swerves the car and is pulled over by Officer Reed (Sturgill Simpson). Reed is unnecessarily threatening and belligerent from the start, and when a freezing Slim (politely) asks him if he could hurry up with his search of the car, Reed draws his weapon and orders Slim to the ground. Queen attempts to start recording what's happening, but Reed shoots her in the leg. Slim then tackles Reed, gets his gun, and kills him as Reed lunges at him. Slim wants to remain at the scene, but Queen points out that a black man has just shot a white cop with his own gun, and if they stay, the best they can hope for is prison. And so the duo find themselves on the lam, with Slim concocting a vague plan to head south from Ohio to Miami, and ultimately on to Cuba. Meanwhile, mostly without their knowledge, they become the symbol for and inspiration behind a nationwide protest movement against racially-motivated police violence.
Passing through Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, Queen and Slim encounter characters such as Edgar (Benito Martinez), a Kentucky sheriff who offers to help them; a gas-station attendant (Joseph Poliquin) who makes a very strange request of Slim; Earl (a scene-stealing Bokeem Woodbine), Queen's uncle, and a pimp and former marine who served in Iraq; Naomi (Melanie Halfkenny) and Goddess (Indya Moore), two of Earl's live-in girlfriends; Mr. and Mrs. Shepherd (Flea and Chloë Sevigny), a conservative Georgia couple; a mechanic (Gralen Bryant Banks) who's unimpressed with the duo's actions; and Junior (Jahi Di'Allo Winston), the mechanic's son, who's in awe of them.
Queen & Slim is written by Lena Waithe (best known for her work on shows such as _Master of None_ and _The Chi_), from a story by Waithe and James Frey (yep, _that_ James Frey), and is directed by Melina Matsoukas in her feature directorial debut, having thus far worked predominately on music videos such as Rhianna's "S&M" (2010), Christina Aguilera's "Your Body" (2012), and Beyoncé's "Formation" (2016).
Although at a structural level, _Queen & Slim_ is a classic duo on the run film, at a thematic level it focuses on socio-political issues such as ethnic tension, systemic racism, unchecked police violence, communal anger, and both the importance and danger of protest movements (it's telling that the film doesn't paint every protestor as a paragon of virtue, and one scene in particular shows a protestor acting as unnecessarily aggressive as Reed did at the start of the film). Concerning this, a key point is that the film doesn't try to be a piece of social realism. On their journey from Ohio to Miami, Queen and Slim encounter a litany of black characters, all of whom know exactly who they are, all of whom approve of what they did and treat them like folk heroes (except the mechanic), and all of whom are more than happy to help out in any way they can. This isn't done to suggest that black identity in the US is a unified and monolithic subculture, rather it's to make an allegorical point; it's a reference to the "them and us" mentality that has resulted in such deep fissures in identity and which give the lie to claims that the US is a post-racial country. This allegorical sense is heightened further with references to slave catchers, chain gangs working rural fields, and the Underground Railroad.
Aside from this, the other major theme is the notion of legacy. This is tied into the fact that Queen and Slim are symbols for a nationwide movement. The fact that they don't see themselves as symbols, doesn't matter to the people who mythologise them. In much the same way as the Bonnie and Clyde of Penn's film or Mickey and Mallory in Oliver Stone's _Natural Born Killers_ (1992) became symbols for disenfranchised, countercultural youth, and Thelma and Louise become symbols for striking back against an abusive patriarchy, Queen and Slim find themselves as the spearhead of a movement focused on black socio-political anger. When Slim kills Reed, he and Queen flee because they assume they won't get a fair trial in a country that sees race before all else (and remember, she's a lawyer). And this assumption is what forms the basis of the movement built in their name, with black people shown as utterly exasperated by such treatment. In such a dangerously volatile milieu, Queen and Slim provide the spark that sets the tinderbox aflame; as one character tells them, "_y'all really gave niggas something to believe in. We needed that for real._" Indeed, in many ways, the film's unifying theme is the notion of how little control you have over how the world perceives you, which can be both powerful and dangerous in equal measure.
However, the film looks at legacy in other, arguably simpler ways. For example, when Slim says he doesn't have many photos of himself because "_I know what I look like_". Queen argues that "_pictures aren't just about vanity. They're proof of your existence_". Later on, in a central scene, Junior takes a photograph of the duo (which is also used as one of the film's posters), and the last shot dwells on the importance of visual records, not just in terms of providing proof of existence, but so too in terms of ideological reinforcement of abstract concepts.
Looking at the aesthetic side of things, Waithe's screenplay does a really good job of telling us who Queen and Slim are from the get-go, taking only a few moments during the opening scene to set up many of the characteristics that will prove important later (his faith, for example, or her acerbity). And because the scene is a first date, the dialogue can introduce such getting-to-know-you material without it seeming expositionary or inorganic. The script also fleshes out the supporting characters in subtle but believable ways, from Earl's obvious but unmentioned PTSD and concomitant bitterness to Mr and Mrs Sheridan's differing reactions to the duo to the mechanic's reasons for disliking them to Junior's reasons for idolising them. It's all obvious enough not to miss, but subtle enough not to jump out as being too heavily scripted. The acting is also terrific. Turner-Smith, in her first feature film role, plays Queen as the realist to Slim's idealist, someone who has sacrificed much to achieve success and who, although she hides it, is deeply lonely. Kaluuya plays Slim as an eternal optimist, someone who trusts others, but is also borderline naïve, in a performance that's the complete inverse of the intimidating enforcer he played in _Widows_.
There are some problems though. For example, I don't know if it was a decision made at a scripting level, directorial level, or editing level, but on a few occasions, the movie inexplicably starts using voiceover. But not normal voiceover. Two characters will be shown having a normal conversation and then, for no apparent reason, some of the dialogue is delivered as VO, only for the normal conversation to resume again. If it was confined to Queen and Slim, I might think it was a poorly-conceived attempt to draw us into their psyche, but it isn't, as we also see it happening with Junior. So, I honestly don't know what the point is, but it sure is distracting and seems to come from a different film entirely. Some scenes are also just too fanciful. I recognise that it's not social realism, and so there has to be some leeway, but scenes such as the one where the duo stop so Slim can ride a horse just push it too far, as does a bizarre scene with a gas station clerk, which (I think) is supposed to be comic relief, but which is just too tonally divorced from everything else to work in any capacity. Another poorly conceived scene, although for a very different reason, sees Matsoukas cut to Slim's father (Thom Gossom Jr.) to show us that the police are monitoring his phone line. It's an entirely unnecessary scene, and it breaks the rigidly maintained focalisation, which up to this point has been entirely confined to Queen and Slim. The film also runs about 15 minutes too long, with several fake-out endings, and in its final moments, it veers very close to melodrama.
These issues notwithstanding, however, this is a strong film that works on several levels. On the one hand, it's a decent duo-on-the-run story; on the other, it's a film tuned into the socio-political frequency of the times. It's well-acted, and for the most part, well written and directed. A snapshot of a house divided against itself, it paints a bleak picture of an ethnic group that has been pushed and prodded to the point where combustion may be unavoidable. 31% of Americans believe that a second Civil War will happen within their lifetime, and it will almost certainly be race-related. _Queen & Slim_ suggests they might just be correct.
Hillman Grad Productions, De La Revolución Films, 3BlackDot by Melina Matsoukas, Lena Waithe, James Frey.
Stars: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine, Chloë Sevigny.
Genres: Crime, Drama, Romance
Keywords: on the run police officer killed black activist racist cop first date woman director killer on the run
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