A notable absence from this year’s fall festival tour (so far) is Queen & Slim, the feature film debut of “Formation” director Melina Matsoukas. I’m a little surprised Universal, the distributor, isn’t looking to put a little festival polish on this movie. It has as good a pedigree as any Oscar hopeful: stars an Academy Award nominee (Daniel Kaluuya), comes from an award-winning writer (Lena Waithe), has a Beyoncé connection, and also “introducing” a splashy talent (Jodie Turner-Smith). I can’t decide if choosing not to go the festival route for Queen & Slim is because Universal doesn’t think a movie about “the black Bonnie & Clyde” is festival-level work, or because they’d prefer a more egalitarian release approach than the festival circuit. They have held a special press event for the film, so it’s not like Universal is ignoring it. They just don’t want to do festivals, apparently. Bummer, I would’ve made this a top priority pick for TIFF.
A new trailer for Queen & Slim shows off more of the on-the-run romance, and the social chaos that erupts from their fatal confrontation with a white cop. At that press event, director Matsoukas said, despite the film itself shouting out Bonnie and Clyde, she doesn’t want Queen and Slim to be seen as black analogues for white archetypes. Waithe echoed that sentiment, saying, “I think there is an interesting comparison obviously, but the difference here is that these are two strangers.” Honestly, my pull from this trailer isn’t Bonnie and Clyde, it’s The Legend of Billie Jean.
Queen & Slim looks great, and I am interested to see not only the romance—we need more sexy romances at the movies!—but also how Waithe and Matsoukas envision this conflict playing out. In America, “stand your ground” laws are routinely applied to permit horrific violence on black bodies, but they never f-cking work in reverse. Will this be a Billie Jean-esque rewriting of the rules, or a horror movie about pervasive racism? Basically, is this movie going to make me fall in love with Queen and Slim only for something awful to happen in the end? This is making me anxious. Here’s hoping in the end, Queen & Slim really ISN’T like Bonnie and Clyde.