We first meet the title characters, Angela “Queen” Johnson (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Ernest “Slim” Hinds (Daniel Kaluuya) as they are strangers, passing time on a first, awkward date at a Cincinnati diner. “So what’s gonna happen tonight?” asks Slim. “I thought we could hang out and get to know one another.” Then fate intervenes, Tinder may have brought them together but circumstance binds them together forever when Slim gets pulled over for “failure to execute a turn signal and swerving a little bit.”
The situation quickly spirals out of control.
Slim presses the aggressive cop to hurry it up while Queen, an attorney, questions the officer’s motives in searching the car. As the police officer’s dashcam rolls, there are harsh words, a skirmish, a misfire and soon the cop lies dead.
“You are a Black man who shot a cop and took his gun,” she says.
“But I’m not a criminal,” he replies.
“You are now. If you turn yourself in you will never see your family again. We have to move forward.”
Panicked, they flee, heading for New Orleans home of Queen’s shady Uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine). By the time they make it out of state a video of the accidental shooting has gone viral and their photos are splashed all over the papers.
The press paints them as “lovers”—even though they have just met—on cross country crime spree but public opinion is mixed. An African-American mechanic (Gralen Bryant Banks) they meet on the journey says, “You gave them a reason to kill us,” while his young son (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) sees them as folk heroes who stood up to authority. “If you don’t make it,” he says, “that’s OK. You’ll be immortal.”
They plan on making a run to freedom in Cuba. First, they have to avoid the police as they weave and wind their way to Florida’s coast.
Written by Lena Waithe and showcasing the style of director Melina Matsoukas in her feature debut, “Queen & Slim” takes a story with echoes of “Thelma and Louise” or “Bonnie and Clyde” and updates it, presenting the couple on the run tale from an African-American perspective. Angela is a lawyer whose first-hand view of the abuses of the justice system has made her a realist. It is her experience that self-defense will never fly solely based on the colour of their skin and it is her who sets the action in motion. The story of police brutality swaps the frequent narrative, presenting the story of two people who refuse to be oppressed by standing up to authority. There will be no spoilers here but know that “Queen & Slim” isn’t a manifesto, it’s a personal story about how quickly lives, ripe with possibility and promise, can be changed forever.
With terrific performances “Queen & Slim” transcends the outlaws-on-the-lam genre. Instead it is a timely humanistic drama that combines resilience with despair.