As Universal Pictures’ Wednesday morning CinemaCon presentation wound down after over an hour of previews for already announced films, attention finally turned to lesser-known quantities, including Grammy-winning music video director Melina Matsoukas’ feature directorial debut, “Queen & Slim.” Written by “The Chi” creator Lena Waithe, the film is also the Emmy winner’s feature screenwriting debut, and she was on hand to introduce Matsoukas and stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith, along with what would become the rare breakout in Universal’s presentation.
Waithe appeared immediately following a first look at Paul Feig and Emma Thompson’s sweet-looking holiday rom-com “Last Christmas,” and she joked, “We’re going to go from a white Christmas to a very black movie.”
In introducing Matsoukas, best known for her music videos like Beyoncé’s “Formation” and Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” Waithe explained, “Everyone in Hollywood couldn’t wait to see what feature script she would bring to life, and I’m very blessed to say that script was mine.” When it was first announced, “Queen & Slim” was billed as a dramatic thriller with romantic undertones that follows a black couple on a first date who are pulled over by a police officer, who they then kill in self-defense.
“‘Queen & Slim’ is what I like to call protest art,” Waithe said. “It’s meant to get people talking. The film is not made to give the audience answers, but instead to ask questions and show what it looks like to be black and in love while the world is burning all around you.”
The film stars Kaluuya and Turner-Smith as the characters of the title, and Matsoukas explained that they “find a bond with each other even as the toll and trauma of what they are going through weighs on them, but what would tear most people apart gives them strength. In tragedy, they stand in truth, they stand in love.”
Matsoukas has always been known for her striking visuals, and a first look at her first film shows that none of that has changed. If anything, she now has a much bigger canvas to play with, and the trailer alone is filled with shots that show off her passion for movement, composition, and tension. Opening with a shot of Kaluuya and Turner-Smith posing for a picture, it then explodes outward to unspool a larger glimpse of what’s to come.
“What do you want?,” Turner-Smith’s Queen asks Kaluuya’s Slim, to which he has a simple answer: “I want someone who’s ride or die.” That desire is pushed to unsettling, timely ends as the young couple head out on a first date that’s soon interrupted by a cop pulling them over for unclear reasons. What happens next is, as Waithe promised, not easily answerable, as the cop is shown dead and the pair decide to flee.
What follows is a moody, lush new spin on the Bonnie and Clyde story, featuring a pair that may — or may not — have actual crimes to answer for. But it’s also all about love, as Kaluuya says in a voiceover, “As long as my lady remembers me fondly, that’s all I’ll need. She gonna be my legacy.”
Judging from the strong reaction to the material, with various members of the press billing it as “powerful stuff” and “the most compelling thing” at the presentation, the film’s foursome are about to have a brand new legacy: breakout film creators and stars.
Universal Pictures will release “Queen & Slim” on November 27, 2019.