Film history is littered with famous two-name duos: Bonnie and Clyde, Thelma and Louise, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
But we've never seen any quite like Queen and Slim, the pair at the centre of Melina Matsoukas’ eponymous feature directorial debut, from a script by Lena Waithe.
Newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith plays Queen, a Ohio-based lawyer who works with death row inmates. After a bad day at the office, she swipes right on Slim (Get Out's Daniel Kaluuya), and meets him for dinner. The date is pretty average — you get the sense that there might not be follow-up. But as the two drive home, they get stopped by the police. And when Slim has to shoot the officer to protect Queen, they end up on the run — together, for better or worse.
Without a doubt, there are Bonnie and Clyde undertones to this story. The trailer, released today, even features someone calling them "the Black Bonnie and Clyde." But as Matsoukas pointed out during a press Q&A at a footage preview held last week, that doesn't mean that the film fits into a pre-existing white-centric archetype. "A lot of my references and influences come from Black culture, just because that’s who I am," she said, pointing to hip-hop music director Hank Williams, Spike Lee, Mira Nair, and Julie Dash among the filmmakers who informed her style.
Shot in Cleveland during the Polar Vortex, Queen & Slim uses contemporary social issues as a backdrop for what is ultimately a love story. "We were very conscious of every decision that we made. We wanted to support Black life, and Black people living and breathing and thriving every day, and so that was our main concern — to show Black people not as victims and being victimized, but to be empowered."
That's partly why Queen is shown to be a practicing lawyer. “We wanted to present a Black woman as being strong and educated, and coming from a path that we haven’t really seen portrayed on-screen before. It was really important to show that we’re not a monolithic group of people."
The film marks the feature debut of Turner-Smith, who crackles on-screen even in the short trailer. Matsoukas said that she and Waithe wanted to use this opportunity to launch the career of a new Black actress, but struggled in finding someone who could hold their own opposite Kaluuya. That is, until Turner-Smith came in to audition.
"I always say ‘He’s our Sidney Poitier, he’s our Paul Robson, our Denzel Washington,' Matsoukas said. "He is a force to be reckoned with, and we knew we needed a very strong performer, especially if she was going to be less experienced. And she came in to that audition and she killed it. There was no question that she was our Queen. And when we brought him in, she was so confident, [whereas] others kind of shrank under his talent. She stood up there, and honestly made him blush on their first meeting. And we were like, ‘That’s the one.’"
That chemistry is evident in the trailer, which shows the two on the run from the authorities as they journey south, meeting a bevy of new people along the way, and fighting to tell their side of the story. And if the plot alone isn't enough to tempt you into the theater, the mesmerizing aesthetics will. Matsoukas got her start directing music videos for Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé, (including "Formation"), and collaborated with Waithe on the critically-acclaimed Thanksgiving episode of Master of None. Shiona Turini, who is responsible for Queen's vibrant wardrobe, also designed the costumes for Issa Rae on Insecure, where she met Metsoukas, who has directed seven episodes of the hit HBO show.
Bonnie and Clyde, who?
Queen & Slim will be out in the UK in early 2020. Watch the full trailer below: