‘Queen & Slim’ Movie Review: Lena Waithe Creates a New Cinematic Legend – AFI Fest

Outlaw road movies have always been a part of cinema from Bonnie & Clyde to Thelma & Louise. It is perhaps telling that the tales evolved from criminals going out in a blaze of glory to those wrongfully persecuted trying to make a break for it. Screenwriter Lena Waithe’s Queen & Slim joins the latter films.

Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya in Queen & Slim
Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya in Queen & Slim | Universal Pictures

In Thelma & Louise’s day the culture of misogyny forced women to flea. Not that that’s been solved, but add to it the world of Queen & Slim where African-Americans must flee police violence.

Lena Waithe gets through Queen and Slim’s first date quickly

The film introduces Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) quickly on a Tinder date with economical banter that illustrates their character. That continues on their drive home but the film gets to the pullover quickly. Officer Reed (Sturgill Simpson) even has just cause to pull Slim over. He drove erratically due to Queen messing with him, harmless behavior until it puts them in harm’s way

Queen (Jodie Turner Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) get pulled over by a cop | Universal Pictures

The pullover is longer than their date and director Melina Matsoukas milks the tension out of Lena Waithe’s script. Reed is fishing for something, hoping he finds something on Slim. Slim just wants to cooperate and work through the process, since he knows Reed won’t find anything, but it becomes clear there’s no logical way out of a hostile situation. Reed shoots Queen in the leg and Slim wrestles the gun in a scuffle and shoots Reed in self-defense.

‘Queen & Slim’ on the road

As soon as Queen and Slim go on the run, their differences become even clearer than they were on a lousy first date. Queen operates with lawyer logic while Slim just wants peace. He’s too trusting. Despite what he’s experienced, he wants to believe people will help. 

Daniel Kaluuya in Queen & Slim
Daniel Kaluuya in Queen & Slim | Universal Pictures

Every character they meet along the way has life. They can be comic or dramatic characters, but they all exist regardless of the heroes. They just happen to intersect. A father and son argue more about their family than the outlaws before them. Sheriff Edgar (Benito Martinez) seems sympathetic and understanding of lawmen overstepping, but there’s no way to be sure. Some situations can be absurd, but they’re always sincere.

Queen & Slim dance
Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) find a safe place to dance on the road | Universal Pictures

Wherever Queen and Slim stop on the road, you want them to have an experience there, and you want to have it with them. They find moments of beauty in their travels, even though it’s a tragic circumstance that sent them on this journey.

Lena Waithe explores the nuances

If this movie were just a case of “cops are bad,” it would only be repeating simplistic talking points (that don’t even represent the black lives advocates) and certainly wouldn’t convince anyone to challenge their preconceptions of how police violence occurs. Lena Waithe is smart enough include all those complexities and nuances, while always remaining focused that this is an issue that needs to be solved. 

Queen & Slim
Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya)’s love scene | Universal Pictures

Queen and Slim become folk heroes and find safe haven in communities that support their rebellion against police violence. Some uneasy allies can be unsupportive but will still help them for money. Some safe places can still be judgmental. The film also shows how righteousness can escalate inadvertently. Some authority figures really just want a peaceful resolution. 

Jodie Turner-Smith in Queen & Slim
Jodie Turner-Smith as Queen | Universal Pictures

The characters Queen and Slim are destined to become legends. They may be fictional but they represent such universal humanity that they speak for all the victims who never got to tell their story. This powerful film is sure to become a classic for the ages.