Welcome to Don’t Sleep On Them, our weeklong series marking the launch of Unbothered UK. Not a single actor of colour was nominated for a BAFTA this year, so we’re using the week leading up to the awards to spotlight incredible black British actresses. Join us in celebrating the women slaying the game and check back tomorrow to see who else we’re rooting for.
Jodie Turner-Smith is a name you need to remember. You may recognise her from Zayn Malik's first solo music video to "Pillowtalk" or perhaps you've watched her recurring roles in Nightflyers or The Last Ship, but it's her blistering performance in Queen & Slim that'll sear your heart.
There's a lot of pain that comes with black cinema. Films which choose to shine a harsh – and necessary – light on the reality of the black experience will also hold a mirror to the tragedy that too often comes along with it. Written by Lena Waithe and directed by Melina Matsoukas (who directed Beyoncé's Lemonade), Queen & Slim does so much more than just take us on an upsetting journey through our historical trauma. We've got an initially quiet but all-encompassing love story between a young black couple who, following an uninspiring first date in Ohio, USA, find themselves on the run after killing a white police officer in self-defence.
"We’re forced to navigate through the world in this leadership position and then have to be vulnerable in a relationship," Melina told us of the context carried by Jodie's character, Angela "Queen" Johnson. And make no mistake – Jodie delivers that conflict with shimmering nuance. It's heartbreaking to come out of the cinema only to realise how inherent the battle between self-preservation and taking up space is to black women's shared consciousness.
Jodie's performance simmers in your memory long after the credits roll, and it'll be immortalised in the already iconic posters for her breakout film.
A lifetime of suppressed trauma wrestles with her every move but it gives way to a voluntary vulnerability that comes with falling in love. There's a scene when Queen and Earnest "Slim" Hines (Daniel Kaluuya) stop at a dive bar in the middle of nowhere. Slim wants to grab a drink and dance; a moment's release from the strain of being chased. You can see that Queen wants to; that she longs for proximity to the man who seems so at ease in contrast to her hypervigilance – a defence mechanism refined over years of carrying the weight of black trauma on her chest.
Between her chemistry with Daniel and the command of our attention at all times, Jodie's performance simmers in your memory long after the credits roll, and it'll be immortalised in the already iconic posters for her breakout film. And though this year's awards ceremonies seem to have slept on the strength and reverence of her cinema debut, we haven't. Neither has Time's Up UK, for that matter. The organisation has joined forces with British talent to celebrate the women and people of colour who should have been nominated for a BAFTA this year – which includes Jodie.
You'll next find Jodie opposite Colin Farrell in upcoming sci-fi drama After Yang, before appearing alongside Michael B. Jordan in crime drama Without Remorse later in 2020. This may just be the beginning, but it feels like the beginning of something big for a woman whose excellence is too slowly being realised.
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