Here we have Queen & Slim, a film that was brought to the attention of Lena Waithe (Showtime’s The Chi, Netflix’s Master of None: ‘Thanksgiving”) by writer James Frey (A Million Little Pieces, My Friend Leonard). Some may call it a modern day iteration of Thelma & Louise with the heartbeat of Bonnie & Clyde.
*NOTE: Spoilers ahead*
The film hit theaters on Nov, 27, led by two British film stars. Written by Waithe, Queen & Slim stars Daniel Kaluuya (Slim) and Jodie Turner-Smith (Queen) as a couple who find themselves in a nontraditional, heroic love story by happenstance. Their relationship ultimately ends as quickly as it began, in tragedy.
Queen is an attorney attempting to find solace after the state sentenced her client to death. She decides to finally reply to Slim’s three-week-old Tinder message, and in his company, the two find themselves suddenly becoming righteous outlaws in people’s eyes after a white cop pulls them over.
Before you know it, things escalate quickly when Queen is shot in the leg by the cop. Slim is forced to make a decision -- the cop’s life or his own. In the flash of an eye, Slim grabs the cop’s gun and fires back in self-defense. But rather than turn themselves in, Queen takes charge and convinces Slim that they must run.
Through the pages of Lena Waithe:
With Queen and Slim, Waithe’s creative outlet was a part of a push for “structural change in Hollywood.” And as a black filmmaker, “to ignore the political realities of the day always seemed implausible,” but the Emmy award-winner wanted to change that. Since Fey, a white man, had thought up the idea for the movie, Waithe decided to come onboard and write it as a way of switching up the narrative within the culture. Why? Because it hasn’t been done before and “because they’re so used to us being the ones who get killed,” Waithe said.
Sure there was some mixed reviews from moviegoers, with some praising the film and others outright disliking it. But that doesn’t play a part in how Waithe decides to frame the film. “I can’t tell someone what to take away from my art,” Waithe mentions in an interview with Reggie Ugwu of NYTimes. “That’s not my job.”
What is her job, though, is to create art. Real art that actually reflects the reality we live in - the good - the bad - the ugly. “The work that artists are doing right now, this is us trying to put a time stamp on the society in which we live,” Waithe said. “It is a cold one, and yet we still are stylish and we still are funny and we still love and we still smoke weed and we still do crab boils.” She continues, “Even in the midst of this trauma, we survive, we live, and that, to me, is what the real meditation of this movie became.”
“Everything a black person does is revolutionary because we weren’t supposed to survive,” she said. “Everything we do is political because they politicized our skin.”
When it comes to the characters of Queen and Slim, we can find refuge in that they are both pieces of what encompasses all black people: “religion, revolution, simplicity, complexity, family trauma, family unit.”
They do have their differences, however. In Queen, Waite sees a little bit of herself, lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson, and some qualities of her wife. She is also “every woman on the bus stop that I passed by,” Waithe says. When it comes to juxtaposing Slim, on the other hand, he is a bit “foreign” to Waithe. Slim’s natural focus and natural stance are very different from because of “the way that his family is always at the forefront of his mind, the way that he’d rather fade into the background.”
What makes Queen and Slim so different from one another is also what draws them together. Being on opposite ends of the spectrum in their points of view, status in life status, and inner wisdom ultimately pulls them into a connection, the kind usually underscored by power struggle. But for Queen and Slim, it becomes the glue that holds them together to the very end. “It not a good scene unless two people in it have conflicting points of view,” Waithe mentions. “It’s Writing 101. Depth. Complication. That’s how the world is.”
Waithe has tried her hand at directing and realizes that it’s not for her. She stays in her lane of being a thought-provoking writer, and lets Melina Matsoukas do what she does best -- direct.