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'Queen and Slim': A contemporary black parable


“Thank you for this journey, no matter how it ends.” – Queen 

Inextricably tied to the identity of American culture, the road movie tells of national icons and heroes that explore the sacred land of the country and contemplate their purpose within its winding roads and epic landscapes. On the liberty of the open road, one finds solace as the wide and endless highways create a poetic opportunity for self-discovery expressed in free-flowing thought and expressive personal soundtracks. 

Tracking back to the Western films of old, such road movies rely on central characters exploring the very frontiers of their mind and physical space, often to find a greater understanding of something they are escaping from. Whether it’s Holly and Kit of Badlands searching for meaning in their coming-of-age journey, or the more urgent escape of the titular characters of Thelma and Louise scarpering from a repressive patriarchal society, the road movie often casts an analytical light on contemporary issues and offers a sobering parable that forces reflection. 

Such is the case for Queen and Slim, a modern tragedy akin to Bonnie and Clyde that follows two fugitives whose lives are thrown into turmoil after being pulled over by a police officer following a first date. Mistakingly shooting the officer after a misunderstanding and a fistfight, the newly entwined couple, played by Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith take to the road, escaping the racism of modern America whilst trying to find an intangible ‘new life’. 

This hope for ‘new life’ is the unfortunate myth that lies at the soul of Melina Matsoukas’s stunning feature film debut, as whilst the likes of Bonnie and Clyde may find refuge in a dusty corner of America, Queen and Slim are both forever victimised by the sheer colour of their skin. To contrast further, the truth of America’s most infamous outlaws was born from their real-life crimes, finding constant enjoyment from their wrongdoing as they travelled unperturbed across America, whilst the protagonists of Matsoukas’s film flee as victims.

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It’s this twisted tale of the pursuit of the American dream that makes Queen and Slim such a tragic tale, rejecting the racism of the 21st century in pursuit of their own life away from such structures of oppression. Inextricably tied to the myth of the road movie with one foot in the issues of modern life, the story begins with a Tinder date between a black criminal defense attorney, Queen (Turner-Smith) and a somewhat awkward man, Slim (Kaluuya). Leaving together after a disappointing date that would no doubt be their first and only encounter, they are pulled over by a white cop and are subsequently thrown together in an extraordinary scenario. 

Spending much time together travelling, the two protagonists begin to fall in love with each others’ preconceived flaws, with both individuals realising they are united under one continued strive for liberty. In the background of such a burgeoning romance is a social movement, fueled by the dashcam footage of the original incident that has since gone viral and has caused a social storm of anger. 

Finding meaning and solace on the American highways, Queen and Slim engage in fleeting conversations with strangers both friendly and hostile whilst fantasising about their relationship and their place in an ever-more volatile American society. Young, gifted and promising, their lives represent the reality of so many in contemporary life as Melina Matsoukas’s film yearns for a time and place where such injustices are finally put to bed.

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