By Cathy Anderson
As first dates go, the cheap diner meal for ‘Queen’ (model turned actor Jodie Turner-Smith) and ‘Slim’ (Black Panther’s Daniel Kaluuya) is pretty ordinary.
He’s cute, eager, religious. She’s lawyer-smart, icy and bored.
A second date? Not gonna happen.
But when the pair is pulled over on their way home for a minor traffic violation by a racist cop, a struggle ensues and Slim shoots the officer dead in self-defence.
Suddenly, that unlikely second date becomes a six-day ‘adventure’ as the pair goes on the run, knowing life has irrevocably changed now that they will be branded as cop killers.
With no money, no phones and a hastily-hatched plan to drive from Cleveland, Ohio to Florida and escape to Cuba, the couple play out an intense courtship, with love somehow blossoming against the stark background of danger, desperation and racism.
Dubbed the ‘Black Bonnie & Clyde’, they unwittingly spark an uprising of African Americans who have had a gutful of police brutality.
When dashcam footage of the cop slaying goes viral, it becomes the smoking gun, so to speak, which ignites a simmering fury across the US that has its own violent repercussions.
Despite the darkness and horror of prejudice and injustice, there is plenty of light.
The couple’s road trip takes them on an Instagram-worthy journey through Georgia, Louisiana and New Orleans with sweeping aerial vistas punctuated by snapshot-style scenes of poor urban neighbourhoods, run-down gas stations and happy kids in the street all filtered up to the eyeballs with saturated colour.
The soundtrack is part urban R&B seduction, part Motown cool and 100 per cent perfect.
If these moments feel akin to a Beyonce music video, that’s no accident.
Debut director Melina Matsoukas has cut her teeth creating unforgettable music clips for some of the industry’s most prominent black female musicians, including Rihanna’s We Found Love, Solange’s Losing You and Beyoncé’s Formation, for which she won a Grammy.
Kaluuya and Turner-Smith sizzle on screen; their romance offers touching, funny and sexy moments not unusual to any dating couple –they dance and drink bourbon in a seedy roadside bar; they go horseback riding; they gradually bare their souls to one another.
The beauty of this film exists within their blooming attraction for one another despite their gaping differences.
She’s a criminal defence lawyer with a super-complicated family history and instinctive distrust of everyone.
He’s an easygoing retail worker with a loving relationship to his family and to God.
Their names are not fully revealed until the conclusion of the film and, although they met via Tinder, there’s a refreshing absence of social media-led information reveal.
Their boundaries, stories and deep desires are peeled back one gritty layer at a time through simple personal connection.
It’s endearing, heartbreaking and funny all at once.
The support cast is fabulous in Queen & Slim.
Bokeem Woodbine does a fine job as Queen’s Uncle Earl, a bombastic but complicated ex-army pimp in New Orleans who, along with his bevy of prostitutes, helps the lovers escape.
Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea and Oscar nominee Chloe Sevigny have random parts as conservative married couple Mr and Mrs Shepherd who also harbour the fugitives, but it works a treat.
The bold colour filtering of the cinematography is in contrast to the artwork for this film, which is black and white.
Superficially, this film is about black v white as communities pitted against one another.
But on a deeper level, there’s nothing black or white about Queen & Slim.
Neither villains or heroes, they become the poster couple for injustice, without ever seeking such inglorious reputations.
The pair is feared by some, chastised by others, and hero worshipped by many.
The lovers-on-the-run-across-America genre isn’t a new one, but Matsoukas and African American writer Lena Waithe (Netflix’s Master of None, Ready Player One) wanted to create a version seen entirely through a black lens.
The result is a beautifully romantic yet political film about America’s deep cultural crisis and its effects on communities.
Provoking, intense and inspiring, Queen & Slim may be the most complex love story you’ll see in cinemas this year, but it will also be the one to linger with you the longest.