Don't call 'Queen & Slim' the black 'Bonnie and Clyde'

Kevin Polowy
Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment

The new romantic thriller Queen & Slim has been likened to the 1967 classic Bonnie and Clyde for months now — its titular heroes are even called "the black Bonnie and Clyde" by another character (Bokeem Woodbine) in the film's trailer. Type in "queen and slim bonnie and clyde" on your go-to search engine and the results go pages deep.

Writer Lena Waithe (Masters of None, The Chi) and director Melina Matsoukas (Beyoncé's Lemonade) don't exactly love the constant comparisons, though.

"It is never meant to be a black version of anything," Waithe told Yahoo Entertainment at the film's Los Angeles press day (watch above). "I did not necessarily want it to be that. And I think once people see the movie, they'll walk out like, 'Oh, that's not like Bonnie and Clyde at all.'"

"I really try to stay away from black films being compared to some white archetype," said Matsoukas. "I feel like it's diminishing to this film, because it's completely different."

As Matsoukas points out, unlike Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty's bank robbers, Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) are not criminals. Slim is a God-fearing clerk at Costo. Queen is a defense attorney. But the couple, driving home from a failed Tinder date, are forced into the roles of criminals after they kill a white police officer in self-defense during a heated traffic stop. (Like Bonnie and Clyde, they do eventually become cult heroes as they go on the run.)

"I think that's where the comparison strikes up an interesting conversation," said Kaluuya (Get Out, Widows). "Because Bonnie and Clyde committed a crime to get themselves into that situation. Queen and Slim were black. And how they're perceived as black people escalated the situation. Where in a bid to survive, they needed to do things. That needs to be interrogated, the criminalization of black life in this society."

Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya in 'Queen & Slim' (Universal)

The film is very clearly intent adding to the nation's discourse over social injustice, police brutality, and Black Lives Matter.

"I hope it shines a light on the systematic racism that's in law enforcement," said Matsoukas. "I hope it also creates that dialogue about what the black experience is, what it feels like to be these two people of color in car when you're pulled over by police, and this real sense of fear knowing that your life can be taken in a matter of seconds if you say the wrong thing because people are so blinded by their prejudices."

"What I want to do is show how human black people are," Waithe said. "I think when you humanize someone, it becomes more difficult to be complacent with their death.

"I'm presenting to you two very fully fledged human beings. And by the end you feel like you could be one of them. You've laughed with them, you've watched them fall in love. So what I'm doing is I'm putting you in a position of, 'Look at the humanness in front of you.'"

Queen & Slim opens Nov. 27. Watch the trailer:

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