Is ‘Queen & Slim’ Based on a True Story?

Hollywood has seen its share of iconic duos who are on the run from the law. Think back to duos like Thelma and Louise, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and perhaps most popularly, Bonnie and Clyde. Now, Queen and Slim could very well join them and go down in history as one of the most memorable pairs that try to fight the law. Directed by Melina Matsoukas, in her feature directorial debut, the story for the movie has been written by Lena Waithe and James Frey.

The film follows Queen, a Ohio based lawyer, who works with death row inmates. She has a bad day at work, causing her to swipe right to Slim. The date is nothing special, once they do go out and you get the sense that there might not be a follow-up date. However, on the way back home, they are stopped by a cop. The situation escalates to the level where Slim has to shoot the cop to protect Queen. This single act seals their fate, as they go on the run from the law, having been labeled as cop killers. While on the road, they develop a unique relationship forged out of togetherness in harsh circumstances.

The movie has been labeled as one of the greatest love stories of recent time by some critics, and the events portrayed certainly look like they have been ripped from the headlines. In fact, the premise of two lovers being on the run from the law, having killed a cop, might seem eerily similar to the tale of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. In fact, when the initial news of ‘Queen & Slim’ broke out, many started to call the duo a black Bonnie and Clyde.

We can understand the obvious question going through your mind now. Is ‘Queen & Slim’ inspired by the Bonnie and Clyde story, and if it is based on a true story after all. We are here to clear your doubts in this regard.

Queen & Slim: True Story or Not?

Firstly, the filmmakers do not like the fact that ‘Queen & Slim’ is being compared to the 1967 classic movie, which romanticizes the robbers who personified the public enemy era. While Queen and Slim certainly turn into public enemies, to compare two black characters on the run from the law, based on white stereotypes, is considered as cinematic shorthand by the makers of the film.

Matsoukas stated, “I think it’s a really simplistic and diminishing way to talk about our film. I don’t really agree with basing black films on any white archetype. I think there’s a huge difference in who Queen and Slim are. They’re not criminals on the run, they’re two very human people who have a shared experience that was not their choice. I think that’s a very critical difference between them.”

While ‘Queen & Slim’ certainly embodies elements of a thriller much like ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, we have to take into account that unlike the murderous real-life duo, the two go on the run, just after one date. Most historians believe that Bonnie accompanied Clyde on many of his criminal activities out of love, and remained with him for the same reasons.

Queen and Slim have to fall in love after they have already been branded as criminals. Another important distinction to make here is that Queen and Slim are not inherently criminals. An unfortunate incident turns them into criminals, while Bonnie and Clyde had no compunctions robbing banks, holding up gas stations and stores, and killing multiple policemen who tried to apprehend them.

Thus, it is evident that ‘Queen & Slim’ is an originally crafted tale that attempts to recount the matter of race relations, and taps into the many issues faced by African-Americans. It is clear that the intention is to capture the Black experience in America. However, one must admit that the social media furor that arises when Queen and Slim’s encounter with the cop is captured on video, turning public perception in their favor, is rather akin to how the American public began to glamorize and even celebrate Bonnie and Clyde, who were seen as reactionaries during the Great Depression.

The key distinction between Bonnie and Clyde, and Queen and Slim is not just the skin color of the protagonists but also how the latter changes and affects both the public and the law enforcement agents after them, making the experiences on the run very different in two cases.

Queen & Slim Influences:

Now that we know that ‘Queen & Slim’ is not exactly based on a true story, it should be important to point out that the director did draw inspiration from several other projects. Among them are Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Y Tu Mamá También’, the 2001 dramedy, whose road trip moments influenced the visuals of Matsoukas’ movie, and Spike Lee’sDo the Right Thing‘.

However, surprisingly, the biggest influence on ‘Queen & Slim’ has come from YouTube videos, as the director notes. Matsoukas stated, “One of the key references for me has been real life, authentic struggles in the black community. I watched a lot of YouTube videos of black people being pulled over by the police or encountering law enforcement and it not necessarily ending well. Unfortunately, there are so many of those videos, but they were a major influence in how I wanted to approach shooting the opening scene.”

In conclusion, the premise of the movie is based on the general reality that black people have to face. The incident narrated is original, but the themes and the overall message of the movie are inspired by the black people who have fallen. The movie is intended to be their legacy, and the makers of ‘Queen & Slim’ have stated that their intention was not to water down the content of the movie, so as to discomfort the white audiences, while making it a film mediating the black experience.

That being said, ‘Queen & Slim’ could very well be a true story as far as empathizing with the characters is concerned, since they have been drawn and portrayed with such excellence, emotion, and raw power.

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