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Queen & Slim: Lena Waithe’s new film is taking on police brutality in a powerful way

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Christobel Hastings
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Lena Waithe's new film Queen and Slim.

The trailblazing screenwriter, who made history as the first black woman to win an Emmy for outstanding comedy writing, is back with a new feature film exploring the state of police brutality in America.

Police brutality is never far from the news cycle in America. In one recent incident, video emerged of Phoenix police officers threatening to shoot a pregnant woman and her family after her four-year-old daughter walked out of a Family Dollar store with a doll. The footage shows Iesha Harper and her fiancée Dravon Ames held at gunpoint during the alleged shoplifting investigation, as police shout threats like “I’m going to bust a cap in your f*cking head”.

The video makes for grave viewing. In the aftermath, the mayor of Phoenix issued a statement saying she was “sick” over the appalling brutality in the video, and apologised to the community, vowing to speed up the implementation of body-worn cameras across the police force. But for black Americans, the systemic racism and violence in the criminal justice system is a life-threatening matter that refuses to go away.

Enter award-winning screenwriter Lena Waithe, who has penned a timely exploration of race relations and police violence in the US in her first upcoming feature film, Queen & Slim.

A new trailer has just been released for Queen & Slim, which follows the story of a young black couple, Queen (played by Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) on a first date, who have dinner at a deserted restaurant before the night pulls them away. 

The trailer begins lightly, with flirtatious conversation between Kaluuya and Turner-Smith’s characters. The pair banter as Slim drives them away from the restaurant, at which point they’re pulled over by the police over a minor driving error; the encounter seems civil enough, with a collected Kaluuya responding “my bad” when the officer tells him he didn’t use a turn signal.

It’s then that the story takes a turn to a dark and familiar narrative that we’ve seen time and again: the officer becomes unnecessarily violent, yells maniacally, and pulls his gun on the unarmed couple. 

Except in this story, Kaluuya’s character overpowers the police officer, and shoots him in an act of self-defence. Faced with the weight of their actions, the “black Bonnie and Clyde” flee the scene. But the dashcam footage of the incident has gone viral, and the couple’s faces are now plastered across the country as universal symbols of pain, trauma and grief.

Though the couple are now fugitives on the run, the thriller isn’t only concerned with the devastating cost of racism and police violence. Queen & Slim is also a powerful love story which follows a fledgling relationship that blossoms in spite of tragedy. “I ain’t gonna bend the world,” Slim says as he drives along the road. “As long as my lady remembers me fondly, that’s all I need.”

Waithe, who made history as first black woman to win an Emmy for outstanding comedy writing, isn’t the only star power on the film. Queen & Slim is also the directorial debut of Melina Matsoukas, who’s responsible for creating some of the most iconic music videos of our time, including Rihanna’s We Found Love, Lady Gaga’s Just Dance, and the masterpiece that is Beyoncé’s Formation

Queen & Slim is what I like to call protest art,” Waithe said at Cinemacon earlier in the year. “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.”

Queen & Slim hits cinemas on November 27.

Image: Universal Pictures

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.

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