“Queen & Slim” (Rated C)
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine
“Well if it isn’t the black Bonnie and Clyde?”
So says Uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine) to characters we know only as Queen and Slim (Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya, respectively) about a third of the way through the new motion picture entitled…um, “Queen & Slim”.
If you know anything about the infamous Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, and especially if you’re familiar with the fantastic 1967 movie “Bonnie and Clyde”, you’ll probably be thinking the same thing even long before that scene.
Surprisingly, Director Melina Matsoukas and Screenwriter Lena Waithe apparently don’t like those comparisons (even if their own creation Uncle Earl sees it too). But whether they want to admit it or not, the similarities are undeniable. The storyline even takes a similar path to the extremely influential aforementioned Academy Award-winning classic. However, “Queen & Slim” does represent an extremely timely, contemporary and realistic update to the fugitive-couple-on-the-run tale.
Whereas Bonnie and Clyde were real-life Great Depression-era bank robbers who became media superstars while trying to evade authorities, and who, according to some, became heroes to many reeling from the hardships many felt the banks (and bankers and Wall Street) had wrought on them in the early 1930s, “Queen & Slim” capitalizes on the “trauma, terror, grief and pain” many people have been experiencing in this “Black Lives Matter” era.
Slim and Queen’s first date takes an unexpected turn when a policeman pulls them over for a minor traffic violation. When the situation escalates, Slim takes the officer’s gun and shoots him in self-defense. Now labelled cop killers in the media, Slim and Queen feel that they have no choice but to go on the run and evade the law. When a video of the incident goes viral, the unlikely outlaws develop a cult following.
Regardless of the connection or lack thereof to “Bonnie and Clyde”, “Queen & Slim” is stylish and well done, bolstered by strong performances from the cast, particularly Woodbine, and especially the two leads, Kaluuya (“Get Out”, “Black Panther”) and newcomer model and actress Turner-Smith. (The latter two are both British which seems just a little ironic, especially as the subject is dealing with an extremely American experience.)
But what’s most interesting about “Queen & Slim” is the questions it asks both intentionally and unintentionally. While Bonnie and Clyde actively decided to embrace a life of crime, Queen and Slim are unwittingly thrown into this scenario – one that plays out seemingly almost nightly on U.S. television newscasts. And so, if it had been you, what would you have done?
Would you choose to go on the run, or turn yourselves in? And what would you do if you were to encounter known fugitives like these – regardless of how you feel about their innocence or guilt? Questions like these raced around my head throughout the film, adding to the intensity of what’s happening on the screen.
And if you’ve watched “Bonnie and Clyde”, or know the true story, then you know exactly how this will all end for Queen and Slim. If you don’t know, then in addition to really needing to go and watch that 1967 crime drama, you can prepare to be surprised as you settle in for an uncomfortable and emotional but still quite fun ride along with “Queen & Slim”.
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email email@example.com and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.