If you don’t know by now, “Queen & Slim” is a black movie from head to toe. From Writer Lena Waithe to Director Melina Matsoukas to it’s co-stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie-Turner Smith all the way down to the caterer. Waithe has consistently said that she wanted the movie to purposely avoid the “white gaze.” She didn’t take any input from any white people on the film and was even given final cut on the script and the editing, which is practically unheard of for a major first feature film, and all we can say is…good job.
What it results in is the Blackest movie perhaps of all time.
Our leads are both dark skinned and it features a passionate, bare-all love scene that has never been seen in a major motion picture ever. That’s not where it stops either. Lena Waithe’s film shows the complexity of character over color in a multitude of ways throughout the film. Our allies are different races, some of our enemies are also black, some of those who help in this film are also police officers.
“It’s not an anti-white movie, and it’s not an anti-cop movie either,” Waithe explains. It’s purpose is merely to tell one story of black life the truest way possible. And they do succeed. The movie is powerful, tragic, incredibly sweet, shockingly funny, and exhibits a sense of freedom black people have ever rarely felt. In fact, Queen & Slim is so rooted in reality that it almost deserves an unrealistic ending.
It doesn’t get it. It gets the one you would expect about two black fugitives who kill a police officer, but their freedom is shown so preciously in so many moments throughout the film, you wish they could actually get it. What also works for this movie is how well it looks. As it was explained in another black film, Netflix’s “Dolemite Is My Name” by Wesley Snipes, you got to have a DP who knows how to shoot black people because: “Black people absorb light, white people reflect light” and clearly, Waithe knew this as well. Tat Radcliffe does an absolutely stellar job of lighting this movie. His compositions frame the cold chill of the winters of Cleveland and the sweltering sun of New Orleans as the backdrop of our main characters and both bring out impeccable ranges of emotion for the film: Fear and uncertainty vs. Passion and acceptance. His Oscar nod is waiting.
One cannot leave this movie without pointing out how good the acting was. Kaluuya, who himself is an Oscar nominated actor and participated in the biggest film of the year in 2018’s “Black Panther,” had to find some way to shrink in this film not just in stature to the leggy Smith, but also in character. She’s clearly way out of his league and he clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing, but he’s doing it anyway. It might very well be enough to see the former “Get Out” star back in the race again.
“It’s not an anti-white movie, and it’s not an anti-cop movie either”
Another surprising standout was Bokeem Woodbine who’s absence from major films should have a lot of people wondering as he delivered a spellbinding performance as Uncle Earl. He’s a standard bearer for egotism, toxic masculinity, and machismo, but beneath that, you’re given access to his fierce loyalty and devoted spirit. He may be left out of the golden statue chase, but lets hope it puts him back in front of the camera in projects to come.
At the end of it all, “Queen & Slim” has much more to it than a surface level black Bonnie & Clyde critique. It is a movie about what it means to die to live, and the potential reality of what black life looks like, and a lot of times it’s dark. Really dark. But sometimes, its hopeful. It’s sweet. And it reminds us that black comes in all shades.