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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Queen & Slim is an intense, mature romantic thriller starring Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya and written by Lena Waithe. It's timely, provocative, and bold, and it deals with big, serious themes, including Black male vulnerability, the unspoken connectedness within many marginalized communities, the allyship that exists between veterans, the notion that "Black love" can heal, and the reality that not all activism is positive. There's also an underlying idea that just because someone is the same ethnicity or color as you, that doesn't necessarily mean that they think like you or will genuinely advocate for you. Several scenes include graphic violence, including guns and deaths. Bare body parts (including breasts and buttocks) are seen in a fairly graphic sex scene, and some women wear revealing/suggestive clothing. Characters drink and smoke (both pot and cigarettes), and there's constant extreme language, from "f--k" and "s--t' to the "N" word and more. Despite the movie's intensity, characters choose love in what some may consider to be a very dark situation, and they opt to live life without inhibition. And viewers get to see a Black man and Black woman advocate for each other on the deepest level, which is a positive counter-stereotype.
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What's the story?
Parents need to know that QUEEN & SLIM is a romantic thriller about a couple who become fugitives after their first date. Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith), a criminal defense lawyer, and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya), a retail worker, hit it off right away. But things take a tragic turn when they're pulled over for a minor traffic stop. Worried about his life as he's being arrested for doing nothing wrong, Slim ends up killing the police officer in self-defense. He and Queen decide that their best course of action is to flee the scene and go on the run. As they evade capture, they form an intense bond. Meanwhile, when a video of the incident goes viral, Queen and Slim become symbols for the terror, grief, and trauma of the victims and loved ones of racially motivated police violence.
Is it any good?
This film shows what can happen when excellent writing and a visionary female director come together. Under director Melina Matsoukas -- known for directing episodes of Insecure, Master of None, and music videos for powerful artists like Whitney Houston, Rihanna, Beyonce, Ciara, Solange, Lady Gaga, and more -- viewers get a glimpse of Black life from a rare, genuine, and honest perspective. With strong visual storytelling talent, Matsoukas harnesses the silent cry of marginalized voices and projects it on-screen in a gripping way. Though some scenes in Queen & Slim are violent, that violence is depicted in a justifiable way -- because the real lives of marginalized people can be violent, and not by their own choosing. It definitely matters that a Black woman is behind the lens of this type of film; it's possible that no other demographic could have orchestrated a story so infused with the unspoken cultural and racial nuances of America's Black folks. With a screenplay by the boundary-pushing Lena Waithe and a story by James Frey (who's known for writing candidly), Queen & Slim is unapologetically Black in its appeal.
In Queen & Slim, Black people save themselves. The misunderstood, the innocent, the guilty, the White allies, the good cops (as well as the bad) are all given space to be just who they are: flawed humans. As Slim, Kaluuya perfectly personifies Black male vulnerability and frailty and every man's desire to experience and have love. His performance is subtle, nuanced, and powerful, and the chemistry between him and Turner-Smith is electric. As Uncle Earl, Bokeem Woodbine is a study in character development. He shows great range as both a gentle pimp with a heart of gold and a shrewd veteran who hasn't yet shaken off his regrets. Chloe Sevigny is engaging as the stuffy wife of a husband (Michael Peter Balzary) who is loyal to a fellow veteran. Really, the entire cast is strong, and each individual character is well developed and makes a lasting impression. The many serene scenes of beautiful, rural Southern backroads provide a strong counterpoint to the seriousness of the circumstances at the heart of the story. The soundtrack is also spot on, paying homage to decades of Black music, from gospel singer Marvin Sapp's "The Best in Me" to the sounds of Raphael Saadiq and Bilal. In this film, there's a beauty in the ugly moments of life, which are portrayed in a way that's rarely seen in major feature films. Misguided activism, perceptions of innocence and guilt based on racial identity, and reaching for the freedom to live life without restraints are all addressed. This intense story has violence, sex/nudity, swearing, and adult drinking, but it also has powerful messages about humanity, race, and love. That makes it a compelling choice for parents to watch with older teens if they want them to have a broader understanding of the experiences of those who are often discriminated against by police, of relatives or friends from communities often marginalized or silenced in the media, or of anyone who's seen as "guilty" before a crime is ever committed.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about heroes. Many people in the movie see Queen and Slim as heroes. What are the characteristics of a hero? What are some different types of heroes? How do those traits vary depending on someone's history and culture?
In the film, Slim is told, "You don't look like a killer to me." In what ways do stereotypes shape the way that people view criminals? Should self-defense be considered a crime?
Queen is a lawyer. Do you think that her professional experience informed the choices that she made when stepping into action with Slim? Can you give examples from the film of the ways in which Queen's knowledge helped her and Slim on their journey? In what ways does Queen show courage, teamwork, and love? What about Slim?
As a generalization, given the history of race relations in America, are people of color justified in their fear or lack of trust in the police? Do you think that the portrayal of marginalized people in the media influences the way that law enforcement officers respond to certain demographics?
Why is it important that this film was written and directed by women of color? How does representation both behind and in front of the camera contribute to authenticity in storytelling?
- In theaters: November 27, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: March 3, 2020
- Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Chloe Sevigny
- Director: Melina Matsoukas
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Activism, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Compassion, Courage, Teamwork
- Run time: 132 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, some strong sexuality, nudity, pervasive language, and brief drug use
- Last updated: April 28, 2020
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