I knew how this was gonna end. No spoiler. The persistent hype I’ve heard, which labels the film a Bonnie & Clyde remake, signals the inevitable. Question is… how are they gonna get there? The screenplay was written by producer/actress, LGTQ activist Lena Waithe from an idea pitched to her by James Frey, author of the infamous novel “A Million Little Pieces.” Some detractors have questioned Frey’s involvement and motives; yet Waithe is vehement in her response, stating that he simply provided the premise of a Black couple on a first date who experience a police stop which goes horribly wrong.
Also, Waithe dispels the Black Bonnie & Clyde moniker, she says it is a mistake to equate Angela Johnson aka Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Ernest Hines aka Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) with Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow real-life robber/criminals. Although her characters are inspired by a compilation of fatal incidents involving law enforcement, they are not actual people and the story is not a portrayal of a crime-spree. “Queen & Slim” bears more of a resemblance to the 1970s film “Sugarland Express,” which follows a couple as they take a police officer hostage and set off a cross country chase. In spite of the comparisons, the “cop chase” genre often features impoverished hapless white folks. Here is where the film takes a decided detour as it grapples with a multitude of issues— not limited to the ripped-from-the-headlines coupling of racism and policing. Once the first gunshot is fired, Queen and Slim are birthed. Angela Johnson and Ernest Hines who just met via Tinder don’t really exist any more.
“Queen & Slim” navigates a trail of interstate highways and backroads through Ohio, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Georgia to Florida, establishing an unapologetically Black narrative. The audience might need multiple viewings or a historical familiarity with the abolitionist’s Underground Railroad network and the segregation era Green Book for Negro Motorists to decipher underlying cultural riffs. Assata Shakur, Black Power Movement icon (and godmother to the martyred rapper 2Pac Shakur) is the metaphorical and geographical beacon for their escape. Nonetheless, love and loyalty in its various manifestations are the universal theme.
Much respect to Melina Matsoukas (in her directorial feature debut) who draws from her experience as a veteran of the music video industry. Each aspect of production from the soundtrack to the costume design, sets the emotional and psychological tone in a visceral way. An example is a dance floor scene which reveals the chemistry between the star-crossed lovers and an ancestral conjuring that is absolutely palpable. The actual setting is the interior of the Candlelight Lounge, one of the oldest juke joints in the historic Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans. Founded in 1783, Faubourg Tremé is documented as the oldest neighborhood founded by free Blacks in North America.
If you subscribe to respectability politics, you will hate “Queen and Slim.” It does not fit neatly into the format of a morality tale or socio-political diatribe. Its complexity and contradictions are its strength. Against all odds, “Queen & Slim” showcases love as a revolutionary act and expresses the term ride or die to the maximum effect.
Queen is Hollywood newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith and Slim is Daniel Kaluuya, best known as lead in the acclaimed horror film “Get Out.” In 2020, I expect to see them take home multiple trophies during award season. Until then, enjoy this entertaining post where the actors offer dating advice.
Different vibe/follow-up viewing, take a look at Medicine for Melancholy (2008) the debut independent feature film by Barry Jenkins, 2016 Academy Award winning director of “Moonlight.”