Over the years, many films have tried to be like Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde. The Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway classic remains the definitive cinematic game-changer of the 1960s. Bonnie and Clyde‘s legacy is built upon the timelessness of its narrative. This isn’t so much a movie about the real Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow and what their crime spree was truly like. Rather, it crystallizes their onscreen personas as a kind of cinematic mythology that later created both the tragedy of Thelma & Louise and the hollow ultraviolence of Natural Born Killers.
In 2018, Lena Waithe (Master of None), Melina Matsoukas (Insecure), and Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) may be developing a mythology of their own in their quest to fight oppressive power structures using their art. Per The Hollywood Reporter, Queen & Slim could be a revolutionary movie in the making. It will be penned by Waithe based on a story that she and bestselling author James Frey (“A Million Little Pieces”) came up with.
The film will serve as Matsoukas’ feature-length directorial debut. She had previously made a name for herself helming music videos before transitioning to television directing. Kaluuya, who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor this year, will star as one half of the titular duo in the film, while the filmmakers are actively looking for an unknown actor for the role of Queen.
Queen & Slim will follow the escapades of a black couple whose first date goes terribly wrong after they kill a police officer in self-defense. The duo then escapes to Cuba, where they remain on the run from the law.
THR’s noted comparison between Queen & Slim and Bonnie and Clyde is a surefire way to turn heads. The latter certainly encourages audiences’ empathy for its eponymous criminals (although the film is not without a sense of self-awareness of its depictions of morality). The inclusion of Black identity in Queen & Slim adds further nuance to its portrayal of unapologetic love, though, and the film seems intent to show this through the lens of police brutality.
Queen & Slim feels like a story that has been a long time coming, given the insidiousness of institutionalized racism that requires provocative and confrontational images to uproot. Waithe says:
“To me, this is protest art. It’s about being black and trying to fall in love in a world that’s burning down around you.”
“It’s a film that defines black love as a revolutionary act. It shows that our union is the greatest weapon against the assault on black people in America.”
Even without any other plot details being made available, Queen & Slim will likely be a wonderful culmination of what Waithe and Matsoukas have been working on separately and together throughout their respective careers.
Before dazzling audiences and breaking out on screen as Denise in Master of None, Waithe worked as a producer on Justin Simien’s politically charged film Dear White People. She honed her writing skills on a variety of television shows as well, including taking up a position as staff writer on Fox’s Bones from 2014-2015. Waithe has since appeared onscreen in Ready Player One and created the Showtime series The Chi, a drama about intermingling lives in the South Side of Chicago.
When taking Matsoukas’ early work into account, her music videos have either indulged in full glitz or gone surprisingly raw with emotionality. What’s great is that she actually nails the tone of all the characters she’s trying to portray in either scenario. For example, her two The Fame era Lady Gaga videos have been thematically light and heavily focused on the glamorous. On the flip side, Matsoukas helmed one of Katy Perry’s most emotionally charged videos as well, distilling the most heart-rending contents of many a war movie into a four-minute clip.
But undoubtedly, Matsoukas’ long-standing partnership with Beyoncé has resulted in some of her best collaborations. Their most recent work together is especially notable for their stylistic distinctiveness and powerful narrative impact. For example, “Pretty Hurts” – which centers on the dark side of beauty pageants and public personas – perfectly exemplifies how Matsoukas’ dreamy directorial style can juxtapose with the highly confrontational subject matter.
Matsoukas also directed the video for “Formation,” one of the most buzzworthy singles of 2016. You would have been hard-pressed not to have witnessed the sheer influence of Beyonce’s Lemonade visual album that year. However, Matsoukas’ work on “Formation” still stands out among a wonderful series of videos as an outstanding, empowering depiction of African Americans, and was particularly lauded for its celebratory portrayals of black women.
Waithe and Matsoukas have joined forces and contributed to the most unforgettable Master of None episode across its two-season run. Titled “Thanksgiving,” the episode puts Waithe’s character Denise front and center in one of the best coming-out stories on television.
Denise, a lesbian, slowly comes to terms with her sexuality and prepares to come out to the people closest to her. She reveals her identity bit by bit to her best friend Dev (Aziz Ansari) before finally coming out to her mother (Angela Bassett). The episode is careful to acknowledge that even the most well-meaning of parents are apt to behave incorrectly in situations like these. We see the tension play out as Denise brings girls home for Thanksgiving gatherings and her family reacts with discomfort. However, the episode ends on a high note as Denise’s mother begins to accept her for who she is, and their relationship can hopefully begin to mend.
“Thanksgiving” is an honest, sensitive portrayal of a delicate subject; impeccably made art that’s really worth commemorating for its commitment to social justice. Matsoukas’ divine visuals coupled with Waithe’s clear and incisive narrative voice will thus undoubtedly make Queen & Slim a similarly vital and valuable experience.
And for Kaluuya’s part, he should buckle up for one of the coolest projects of his career. He has certainly paid his dues as an actor, coming a long way from portraying Posh Kenneth on Skins, or filling that one guest spot on Doctor Who, or playing the sidekick in Johnny English Reborn. Accolades-wise, Kaluuya has now been nominated for an Oscar, Golden Globe, SAG Award, and BAFTA, and is also a recipient of the BAFTA Rising Star Award (likening him to established past winners such as James McAvoy, Eva Green, and Tom Hardy).
Many of Kaluuya’s most prominent works have highlighted a keenness for challenging projects across the board anyway. Whether he’s playing out the worst of dystopian fiction in Black Mirror or battling against the scariest racists of Get Out, Kaluuya is the real deal without ever being showy. Queen & Slim is an ideal project for him. It gives Kaluuya a substantial leading role to embody while being different enough to set itself apart from his recent onscreen endeavors.
Honestly, I needed this movie yesterday. Queen & Slim sounds like a fresh take on all kinds of established genre conventions and will definitely be supplemented by a brilliant team-up of the freshest talent out there.