While on their first date, Queen and Slim (Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya) are pulled over by a racist cop (Sturgill Simpson). When a struggle ensues they shoot him with his gun and flee from the scene. As their faces fill the airwaves they become heroes and spark a violent protest movement in this racially charged road movie.
It aims to be Selma and Louise, but flounders in its attempt to balance anarchic fun, serious drama and comment on the challenges faced by a marginalised group. Dramatically it suffers from cold characters who make bad decisions, and a serious tone at odds with its rampant implausibility.
But its politics are a bigger concern, adding an unhelpfully ill-considered voice to an already febrile debate. Since #BlackLivesMatter in 2013, films like Fruitvale Station, Detroit and If Beale Street Could Talk have taken sober and realistic views of police racism. But Queen & Slim feels like a Fox News parody of the movement, even if this is almost certainly unintentional.
What’s most counterproductive is the overarching story: a pair who are filmed shooting an unarmed cop and fleeing the scene become idolised to the point of being actively supported in their run from the law by almost every black person and white liberal they meet. It’s reminiscent of A Time To Kill, in which a racist system is seen as justification for killing with impunity (can’t racism and murder both be wrong?).
But often the way it represents black characters feels regressive too. Queen’s uncle (Bokeem Woodbine) is a pimp who lives with four women, and on the road they encounter a loudmouth dad who refers to his wife as ‘bitch’ in front of his son. If its intention is to balance serious drama and political commentary with the caricatures of exploitation cinema it fails. In one particularly jarring scene a black cop chooses allegiance to race over the rule of law by letting the killers go, an accusation of dual loyalty which would surely be seen as grossly offensive in any other context.
But whether the film really thinks killing is OK as long as they’re racist, or whether it’s trying to show how small acts of hostility can escalate to a situation bordering on a race war, events are presented in a way that appears to confirm the worst fears of Black Lives Matter opponents: that it’s violent, retaliatory and anti-police.