A review of the important new movie “Queen & Slim”

How many American films have a black woman as both writer and director and black actors in both the lead roles and in most of the support roles? But this is how it should be for a work that reflects the Black Lives Matter agenda and it is a genre-blending triumph, part thriller-cum-social commentary, part road movie-cum-romance. One of the characters refers to the two principals as a black “Bonnie and Clyde” (and certainly the ending has echoes of that film), but they were hardline criminals and a better comparison would be with the movie “Thelma And Louise”, a tale of accidental criminals on the run with character-changing consequences. 

The viewer is plunged straight into the narrative – a young black couple on a first date in an Ohio diner: the Queen character, an uptight attorney who has had a bad day and is soon to have a much worse night, about whom we will learn a lot more, and the Slim personage, a more relaxed kind of everyman – well, every young, black American – about whom we learn very little. On the ride from the diner, they are stopped by a white traffic cop. What could possibly go wrong? Only when things have gone spectactularly awry do we have the film’s title and opening credits, but we are now hooked and will stay so for as long as this couple is on the run, meeting a whole range of colourful characters and driving through an impoverished land. 

The writer is Lena Waite and the debut feature director is Melina Matsoukas. They are brilliantly served in the eponymous roles by Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”) and Jodie Turner-Smith, both in fact British actors. Not all the black characters that they meet are honourable and not all the white policemen that they encounter are prejudiced, but anyone in the film who has seen the viral video of the opening incident mythologises it as avenging angels on the run from injustice or callous cop-killers evading what they deserve.

This is the best movie about the black condition that I’ve seen since “Detroit” but, whereas that film was about one true-life historic incident, this one is a fictional representation of the true and very contemporary American debate about white policemen routinely killing innocent, unarmed, and often young black men. 


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