Because I cannot get enough of Daniel Kaluuya. I was privileged enough to watch this movie before lock down ensued in London- I say privilege because these types of movies are rare and often get eclipsed in the plethora of Hollywood remakes and recycles- I have watched it several times over lockdown and the sentiment remains the same for me; this is a movie about the ride not the destination.
We can almost see the end of this movie and so we do not concern ourselves with what might happen down the line, rather we want to know what happens in the moment, in their now. At least I did.
On the face of it, this is a shitty first date; boy meet girl, rubbish dinner date, and trouble ensues, but in the sum of its part the trouble is in the fabric of the story; a duality between love and tension that will define the rest of their lives. Daniel Kaluuya is some kind of magic to watch on screen and Jodie Turner-Smith is electrifying. The opening scene of their date in a local diner, which Kaluuya’s character, Slim (we never actually learn their names in the movie), chooses gives some belly-laughs because it is so bad, it cannot help but be funny, laced with an attitude and rapid back and forth between the two of them. On the way back to their separate lives, because no one would want a second date after that, they are pulled over by a white policeman, and after some back and forth, his gun is pulled, one shot, another shot, policeman down and we have two fugitives on the run.
Matsoukas takes us on a journey of discovery and reckoning, introduction to the cultural landscape of what it means to be Black in America, especially from the outside looking in. It is a message through the lens of injustice that follows Black and Brown folk, the bitter and ugly histories against the beauty of the community and the unity within. It is layered and complicated and heavy. Queen and Slim looks through that prism, a calm centred within a world falling about your ears.
Visually, this is a treat; culture unfolds and the spirit of Blackness is ever present. For Us by Us. The music, the scenery, Uncle Earl and his girls, the story between him and Queen, its hurt and pain with just the teeniest glimmer for hope and reconciliation, until you hear the full story and it becomes even more complicated to wish for one or the other.
The love… oh man! The love shines through in all its glory. Here are two people in the eye of a storm, a world falling to pieces, yet here they are enshrined in the cocoon of their love, a love they do not acknowledge until later, without having to say the words. And for us, it is a pleasure to watch it unfold. In every scene, every frame, we see the world through their eyes in its entirety. We are comforted that, for the most part, they are in control of their predicament, as long as they can be, even if we know they are not- this is the consequence of love and its harsh realities when life intervenes.
From beginning to end we cannot forget their struggle and the realities which it brings to the surface. This world is familiar to them, it affects them the same way it affects the prisoners working in the fields as they make their way South. Matsoukas and Waithe are in our faces, showing us the human within the tragedy unfurling, bring us in to witness their love and that of the extended community. It takes on racial injustice, suppression and oppression and exposes the underbelly of a judicial system built on inequality rather than justice for all. This is not Bonnie & Clyde as Uncle Earl teases, this is a story of two people caught up in the wrong place and the wrong time following a series of unfortunate events.
The cinematography is sublime, the music is moving and masterful, a mash up of cultures rooted in the Black lived experience, African intonation and a rawness most revealing. You almost want the story to play out in parallels- what their life would have been like if the circumstances were different? Would they have gone on a second date? Would they have been given a chance at happily ever after?
Therefore, if you watch this movie, know that it is a privilege to do so, to get to witness one of the more moving stories to come from Hollywood. It is a story of a struggle bigger than the two people at the epicentre, fiction it maybe, an idea pitched by James Frey and written by Waithe, but the privilege still remains in watching this love story unfold. Irrespective of the expected ending.