By Dikembe Wilkins, Howard University News Service
Washington D.C.– It may not be possible to have a better debut for both a film director and lead actress than music video director, Melina Matsoukas and Jodie Turner-Smith in the upcoming film Queen & Slim. The film starring the aforementioned Jodie Turner-Smith and “Get Out” star, Daniel Kaluuya, was directed by Melina Matsoukas and screen written by Lena Waithe. Loaded with social commentary and beautiful visuals this is a film with a truly lovable cast, that will make you laugh out loud, grin from ear to ear and ugly cry streams of tears.
This film, which was screened for the first time at Howard University’s Homecoming Week this week, was marketed as the “black Bonnie & Clyde” but aside from the main characters of both stories being lovers on the run from the law, Queen & Slim is its own story and should only be spoken of as such.
Queen & Slim is a love story, not a gangster movie, about an unlikely couple, who through no fault of their own were thrust into a situation in which they need to escape from the police if they want to survive, and in the process became folk heroes in the black community. In the film one of the characters says to Queen & Slim, “Y’all gave niggas something to believe in… we needed that.”
It’s impossible to tell that this is Melina Matsoukas’ first feature film, there are no mishaps and she has a clear vision. Coupled with Lena Waithe’s script, the message of this film is felt like an arrow through the heart. The viewer can tell that Matsoukas, director of Beyoncé’s “Formation” video, is a music video director and I mean that in the best way possible. She is able to use lighting, motion, the score and soundtrack to turn the camera into a character itself, telling a story without saying any words. At times the screen would cut to black, not showing the actors at all, instead allowing the audience only hear the characters speak and take in the emotions that they’re feeling.
At one-point Matsoukas dedicates an entire segment to portraying the emotional effect that cutting their hair had on Queen and Slim using barely any words.
The soundtrack for this film draws inspiration from around the Diaspora but mainly focuses on black music from America, using songs created by artists from every town, city, state and region that they pass through to change the mood from heavy lows to jovial highs.
Singer-songwriter, Blood Orange, scored the film, his keys and chords controlled the emotions of the audience event more so than the soundtrack. The tension his score brought to scenes made the film feel like a horror movie at times and without the soundtrack, comprised of songs from Lauryn Hill, Solange, Mike Jones, The Bee Gees and more, to bring the viewers back up they may have stayed in the darkness his music brought.
Lena Waithe is truly a gifted artist. She crafted a two-hour tale that covers six days in the lives of two people that at the start don’t like each other, but by the end I would have believed were in love even if they never kissed. Waithe lays out the dialogue so that the audience can pick up small hints that tell almost everything about the character’s in the first twenty seconds, that continues throughout the film as you can see how their circumstances and the time that they spend with each other changes them. On their journey they interact with a wide variety of people all bringing their own points of view and adding to the already abundant supply of social commentary.
“Get Out” already put Daniel Kaluuya on the map but “Queen and Slim” should help cement him as one of the best actors of his cohort. Kaluuya’s, Slim, is a sweetheart and appears naïve in the beginning but he’s no punk and is more than capable of matching Queen’s sass with his own, simply put, he gives the same energy that he gets. Kaluuya especially shines in the haircut scene previously mentioned, as he spends minutes in the mirror grappling with his nearly new identity without saying a word.
At the beginning Jodie Turner-Smith’s, Queen, was mean, pessimistic and pretty cold but was still very likeable through her passive aggressive tone and lack of willingness to be vulnerable, almost the exact opposite of Slim. Soon enough, she loosens up and becomes arguably more expressive and vulnerable than Slim, exemplified in her face that goes from quick toned and standoffish to warm and smooth, akin to the smoothness of a woman reciting poetry over jazz.
Expect to see Jodie Turner-Smith in more films, she definitely made herself known in this performance.
As a sidebar, Bokeem Woodbine is a treat as Uncle Earl and needs to be casted in more films.
“Queen and Slim” is one of the best films to come out this decade and is exactly what happens when passionate people on a mission to send a message come together. Matsoukas and Waithe captured the feelings and experiences of a generation and put it into a film that will last forever.