Earlier this year, while location scouting for her first feature film, Melina Matsoukas ended up in St. Clair Superior, Ohio, a black neighborhood on the northern border of Cleveland. Over the course of half an hour, the director watched six drivers get pulled over by police. When I sat down with her at a café on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles this summer, Matsoukas told me that while making Queen & Slim, she recalled one of the cars pulled over that day—a white Honda Accord. “That’s Slim, right there,” she said. “This is what it looks like on a Tuesday night … how your life can be turned around in two seconds.”
Queen & Slim, written by the Emmy winner Lena Waithe and starring Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith, follows a black Ohio couple on the run after they kill a cop in self-defense during a traffic stop on their first date. During the stop, the officer riffles through the trunk of Slim’s car; finding only boxes of sneakers, he draws his gun and orders Slim to the ground. Queen hops out of the car to defend Slim, and the cop shoots at her before a struggle ensues and Slim gets hold of the gun. The couple’s survival of the encounter is a departure from the grainy bystander videos and police dashcam tapes that have been released in recent years. The bulk of the film follows Queen and Slim (the “black Bonnie and Clyde,” as another character calls them) trying to avoid capture as they journey from Cleveland to the Florida Keys, in an effort to reach Cuba. Along the way, they are confronted by reminders of America’s racist legacy: prisoners working a far-off field in the South; police officers in riot gear at protests that boil over into violence.