Runtime: 1H 59
Director: Melina Matsoukas
Production Company: 3BlackDot, Bron Creative, Makeready, De La Revolución Films, Hillman Grad Productions
Whenever I watch a film composed by an orchestra of Black and/or ethnic minorities, I believe its reception will be split by those who identify with such distinctions. Hence, Black trauma always evokes an emotional chemistry within me I feel, a white mainstay in audience will not. I felt it whimper in my heart as I watched Black Panther, several times, witnessing Black children run around the cinema in Black superhero costumes, a scene I had never acknowledged I’d see before. I read it within reviews and the ridiculous extensions of critics of Blue Story, and the association to incidents of violence nationwide. I sensed it in the reactions of the audience in the few times I watched Get Out. Where White moviegoers snigger at what could be consumed as comedic to them, added to the unease the Black audience conceived as relatable everyday microaggressions, in which a majority identified with wanting to fold into themselves at the awkwardness of how real every moment was and could be. Get Out was the film that made me realise that division was the brunt of our different perceptions. How numerous white critics witnessed Get Out as a comedy, as did many film award categories, due to an incapability of relating to such livelihoods/a privilege they are perched on, whereas a majority of its Black audience recognised it as a Horror, a Thriller even, that contains aspects of well-worked comedy. I always refer to this commonality as negritude, insofar as we will always receive this content differently to that mainstay of Western Societies. Queen and Slim is another beautiful film that encapsulates the Black experience in a romantic, invigorative and visually absorbing manner.
By no means is Queen and Slim as epic as Get Out or entrancing as Black Panther. Nevertheless, I have always wanted cinema to reach a point where Black stories can be told without it needing to be outstanding in every sense. Written by Lena Waithe, Queen and Slim as it joked itself has been conceived as a “Black Bonnie and Clyde” and yet it is not a romanticised stint of criminal endeavour they are running from. It is the harsh realities of injustice, the unlikelihood of the right thing, and the vilification of their actions as black individuals – as well as people simply opposing the law. What was illuminating to me in this film was the contrast of relationships, the looming tension and expectation of trauma that desensitises while lulling you into the favour of Queen and Slim’s adventure. It is brilliantly done in most parts, and I was amazed at the opening scene. It starts in a gloomy green diner in the middle of Ernest (Daniel Kaluuya) and Angela’s (Jodie Turner-Smith) first Tinder date which turns out to be an overextended run. There is a comfortability as the conversation starts in the middle, with their tones set from their body language and responses. Ernest seems humbled by a gratefulness of being, in a sense of being at ease with the goodness he receives – which in this case is food. The cook forgot to scramble his eggs and he is fine with that, knowing of her background to a point he empathises with her mistake, and yet Angela’s meticulousness points this out as an issue for her. She comes across as stiff, hard to impress, articulate and too honest. The pair’s date is seemingly in tatters, and she points out she only dated him after considering his depressive outlook on his profile pics as in need of a date. It was a pity pick, in which Ernest doesn’t mind until she is damning enough to alienate him. It comes across as an honest and realistic relationship, that builds over time through a silent tone of identity that acts as a prompt to act from. Hence when stopped by a white snappy and presumably racist cop, the identity and trauma sink in. With police brutality such a prominent issue in America, along with dash cams, the vastness of the Internet, the tone sets itself. An altercation ensues with the aggressor cop that becomes gun-happy, and Queen and Slim become romanticised for their lucky escape. Instead of focusing on the wider world and the conceptions of the incident, the film focuses on their relationship on a journey to salvation. It contains a bearable and lovely light spread of characters, such as Uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine) who is Angela’s estranged Uncle, Goddess (Indya Moore) one of his prostitutes, Junior (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) the sun of a hardworking mechanic, and others who are people seemingly privy to this viral situation. Their interjections are strong, and dialogue, as well as the smoothness of their moments, serves the flow of the film.
It becomes entrancing by the cinematography, stunning visuals, at times with dialogue overriding shots that capture the motions of their journey. The cinematography by Tat Radcliffe, known for 71 (2014) by Yann Demange and to me personally for capturing episodes in the 1st season of Top Boy, carries a personal touch that keeps you engaged in the setting. He does not fret to hover over views from a distance, or intensify the moments with in-depth shots that immerse you into the action, such as a spellbinding view of intimacy and hard-hitting shots of facial transformation. The cinematography marries a beautiful score pieced together by Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes, which honeymoons over scenes that seamlessly intertwine as the cast is so contained within the bouncing journey of people, that they can either trust or must place their trust in. As the film is focused on Queen and Slims rampant relationship it is empowered by this awkward journey to the South. I refer to these relationships as negritude because moments of that common trust and relief come through that likelihood of blackness, a hopeful empathy that is not available in most cases, as we see on-screen and in reality. “Stop killing us” and “Let them go” protested in scenes as people realise this common theme of Police brutality. Although some moments were wayward in terms of writing, the film carries sentiments that illustrate the beauty and humanity of people. It does not uphold the system to be all-powerful but acknowledges the extent to which people can act.
Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie-Turner Smith are fascinating actors. Both Black British and phenomenal in their display, they captured the beauty and elements of those tricky relationships and values. They step into these characters and changed conceptions of them, even in the enthralling pictures of their scenes before the film’s arrival. Whether it is within their own characters, conceptions of God, their families and ties, as well as their eagerness to reconnect with a reality taken from them. The concept of being immortalised and becoming a hero, being present in the here and now, adds tint to the romance of the film. The smoothness of the soundtrack, alongside the illustrious cinematography, seems masterfully pieced together and directed by Melina Matsoukas. She is a renowned director of music videos, commercials, TV, and I was initially surprised to learn she was the director of Beyonce’s tantalising Formation (2018) video, as well as We Found Love, S&M by Rihanna, along with her other lists of commendable accolades. She also directed episodes of Insecure, which made a lot more sense in terms of some scene’s visuals and the plot behind them. Her feature-length film debut is stunning, and although I sometimes witness content based on Black trauma as emotionally exhausting, a double-edged sword of, sometimes, necessity, the prodding was not so cutthroat but rather enlightening, endearing and enjoyable.