Queen & Slim
The beauty of Black Representation on screen is at point in our lives where access and opportunity are providing new and old avenues to display the complexities to who “WE” are in a way we’ve always deserved. With great power also comes great responsibility and “WE” are not a monolith. It’s important to champion this sentiment. While there are many areas of oneness to “US” there are also varying differences to the way “WE” think, talk, engage, digest, and ultimately look to be entertained at the cinema.
Admittedly, this will be the hardest review I write. At least for now. With many more stories to tell, the nuances of film criticism amongst Black and Brown film critics can and will present challenges that I personally look forward to facing while at the same time are a bit trepidatious in doing so.
There’s a fear of being looked down upon for not supporting “OUR” art to the fullest. I’ve gotten that before. As an aside or in jest maybe, but there are projects that I haven’t been in love with from Black and Brown creatives and just because I wasn’t won over that doesn’t make me less Black. There’s also the notion of not living up to my own expectations for allowing a perception of me to affect the way I do my job. I think keeping my own personal ethics and integrity intact is what I’m proud of and hope others are of me too
“Queen and Slim” was a film that was high on my “Most Anticipated” list for the rest of 2019. The trailer was cut and scored gorgeously, and I was hooked. There was a beautiful magnetism to this story, it’s characters, it’s creators and the commentary it looks to propose. In this climate, “WE” don’t always feel heard and or “OUR” lives valued. Lena Waithe And Melina Matsoukas set out to cater a Black Experience story emphasizing Black Love without a white lens.
They succeed in that.
“Queen & Slim” succeeds in putting 2 characters that were less than an ideal match together, on the run after a routine traffic stop becomes a Black American nightmare where they both take part in the tragic killing of a police officer in self-defense. Along their journey to freedom the trials and connections they make on the road blossoms a connection that’s deep, intense, and creates a legacy richer than they could’ve ever imagined.
Melina’s eye, evident by her extensive Music Video background is captivated by urban images. There’s a grit to this film that’s refreshing and real. There are very distinct choices and shots composed to highlight the majesty of Black and Brown bodies where audiences can see themselves on screen. It’s impressive, it’s colorful, it’s real, it’s harsh, it’s also terrifying.
The reality of “Our” lives is made up by those things and so much more. The collaborative effort by Melina and Lena to paint a picture of the Black Experience onscreen with all its beauty and its warts is commendable.
The soundtrack set to this film mimics the splendor of “OUR” story as well and shows we are more than a single sound or genre. From Rap, to Soul, to Jazz and so much more the music is a character unto itself equally apart of this story.
The cinematography takes snapshots of the lives impacted by the incident in the film across our country and expose a lot of dirty truths.
The biggest and most undeniable truth is the way the performers embody the vision Lena and Melina set to bring to the forefront and magnify Black Love in a tender and lyrical way. “Queen & Slim” does something special with the hyper real sex scene that is atypical in cinemas. The boldness of displaying lead actors making love with darker complexions work hard to change what were conditioned to see on screen. The acting all around is impressive. Bokeem Woodbine’s “Uncle Earl” is a scene-stealer and provides a levity I wasn’t prepared for. Indya Moore in the little time she had on screen was subdued yet phenomenal to see. There’s a poetic poignance to the film through the dialogue that is a nice touch and rests heavily on Daniel Kaluuya and newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith. Their chemistry while slow to start ignites to the caliber of what Stephan James and Kiki Layne brought to the big screen last year in “If Beale Street Could Talk.”
However, where “Queen & Slim” works most in the strength of its love story, its weakness is the narrative composure of the many themes left not fully developed in the rest of the screenplay. There’s an all too real social conflict this film proports to tackle but doesn’t seem to want to hold a conversation that’s long overdue and if it attempts to at all, it employs little nuance to hold it effectively.
Admittedly that’s a subjective take wrapped up in the expectations I had for this film. That doesn’t make this film bad. It does make this film incomplete. We’re left asking ourselves a lot of questions as an audience after many scenes in this film “What is it that the storytellers are trying to say?” The love story is very straight forward while the social commentary, our characters choices, and the plot as a whole leave us scratching our heads. Many of the decisions written are very emotional abstract of believable logic, it takes you out of the film. There are a lot of moments in the 2nd act where peculiar injections of comedy are great on its own, but in this film doesn’t blend together with the tone. Uncle earl is great and a barrel of laughs, but his comedy is distracting to the relevance of the story.
Imagine getting a joke teller in the middle of "12 Years a Slave"? Yeah!
Also, the editing doesn’t help to smooth some of these rough areas and makes the pacing feel choppy and leaves the audience unsure of time and how the narrative progresses. While I love the performances that’s mainly a credit to Daniel Kaluuya who elevates the weaker components of some of the dialogue written while the greenness to Jodie Turner-Smith’s performance doesn’t always do the same.
Lena Waithe, like I mentioned earlier is attempting to paint the Black Experience in this film but does so with such broad strokes she’s trying to fit too much in to one film which demonstrates a lack of focus. This is where a first-time feature writer can seem to be too close to the script, so it appears to be a lot that didn’t want to be edited out, which in my opinion hurts the effectiveness of the narrative.
Personally, the film’s lack of commentary on our climate with incorporating such a lightning rod story element is a waste. A missed opportunity to display the many shades of the Black and Brown discussion to Social Justice and Police Brutality.
Objectively, this film has some very strong DIRECTION that knows how to slickly capture the Beauty of BLACK SKIN. The Camerawork is stylized as such and the music sets the mood appropriately. The Performances are great for the most part despite a lot of issues I have with the narrative construction and the screenplay as a whole. Subjectively, I’ve never been more soul broken and conflicted after watching a film. I feel this is one of the most socially irresponsible films I’ve seen in a while and it’s painful to vocalize this. However, I have a responsibility to not fully allow my unmet expectations to unfairly color my critical analysis or ignore how this film will and has affected its intended audiences.
KOLBYTOLDME RATING- 6/10
Director: Melina Matsoukas
Writer: Lena Waithe
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner Smith, Bokeem Woodbine, Chloe Sevigny, Flea, Indya Moore
Run Time: 131mins