What consequences come from criminalizing black bodies is examined in a road trip story filled with meaning.
In the new movie Queen & Slim – written by Lena Waithe and directed by Melina Matsoukas – the story focuses on a first date that has a terrible ending. Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) have had a decent time getting to know each other. When the night is drawing to a close and they’re leaving the date, the pair are pulled over for a minor problem, but the attitude of the police officer escalates the situation to the point Slim, in self-defense, seizes the officer’s gun and shoots him.
Fearful of the repercussions of that act, the two go on the run. While the media labels them cop killers and unrepentant criminals, a video of the incident shows the truth of what happens and they take on the aura of folk heroes, even while they’re still being chased by the authorities.
The movie’s campaign has drawn comparisons to another famous “outlaws on the run” story, but that does a disservice to the injustice at the heart of the inciting incident.
In July the first poster (by marketing agency Gravillis Inc.) was released showing Queen and Slim posing for the camera in a garage, seemingly to create the impression this is the kind of photo taken while they’re on the run.
What seems to be an app-based first date starts out awkwardly in the first trailer (6.3 million views on YouTube) and gets more intense from there, as a questionable traffic stop results in Slim shooting the police officer that pulled them over and quickly became aggressive. He and Queen stay together and go on the run, their reputation often preceding them wherever they wind up. The stakes of their journey only get higher as they get deeper and deeper into the criminal life they’ve inadvertently chosen.
After getting the same first date setup as before, the second trailer (5 million views on YouTube) from early August spends more time showing how Queen and Slim’s actions have created a movement, offering violent inspiration to people who were feeling beaten down and hopeless against the powers that be. Life on the run isn’t easy, though, but they keep coming back to one another as they seek to evade the police at every turn.
Another trailer (8.5 million views on YouTube) in September starts off in the same manner as the others, showing how a normal first date winds up leading to an incredible journey of criminal glorification and adulation.
Online and Social
In addition to the usual marketing content, the official website for the movie has a “Reactions” section that curates some of the social media posts praising or talking about someone’s anticipation for the film.
Advertising and Promotions
One of the first big promotional boosts for the movie came back in March when Universal generated some positive buzz by including it as part of its CinemaCon presentation, with Waithe appearing on stage to get people talking.
It was announced in August the film would screen at this year’s AFI Fest in November. The two stars appeared at the Vanity Fair Summit in October to talk about and promote the film and its story.
A featurette released in late October featured Matsoukas and Waithe talking about the story and how they came to work together along with what they sought to accomplish with this movie.
Fandango MovieClips debuted a clip from the film showing Queen and Slim seeking help in the form of shelter and transportation while on the run. Another clip catches up with the two on the run, with Queen enjoying a moment of freedom.
A featurette came out just before release that showed the first table read by the cast and more behind the scenes action.
Online and outdoor ads used reconfictured key art to make the same bold statement as the poster.
Media and Press
Matsoukas spoke about the movie’s story here, part of a Q&A accompanying a screening of the film.
An interview with Matsoukas and screenwriter Lena Waithe had them dismissing comparisons to Bonnie & Clyde while emphasizing the uniquely black experience and attitudes they sought to portray and convey to the audience.
How Matsoukas got involved with the film and what kind of story she wanted to tell was covered by the director at the movie’s premiere, with others from the cast and crew covering similar ground. Another interview with her around that time had her talking more directly about how tackling the repercussions of police brutality was important for her.
The two stars were interviewed together about how they bonded prior to and during filming in an effort to best portray their on-screen relationship and dynamic.
Another interview with Matsoukas had her talking about the story and how important it was to her to show people like herself and others on screen.
Waithe made an appearance on “The Late Show” to share her experience writing and working on the film.
There were a number of other interviews with the cast and crew, many of which focused on the notion of “black love” being an act of resistance and defiance against a system that would otherwise keep them down. Many of those can be found on the movie’s Twitter feed.
The biggest surprise of the campaign is that I haven’t encountered much pushback to the themes of the story from the media’s more conservative wing. Where, I wonder, is the intense hatred lobbed at a story about a black man killing a white police officer? Perhaps everyone’s attention is too focused on the current impeachment process to notice this and get their viewers stirred into an outrage.
That’s not me saying there *should* be such pushback. Far from it, I think more stories like this that reflect the modern reality of different members of society are essential. I’m just shocked that Fox News etc haven’t gone wall-to-wall in lambasting the filmmakers and declaring them to be traitors who hate all laws.
Putting that aside, the campaign is powerful in its starkness. From the black and white photo on the poster to the vast silences of the trailers, the intensity of the story comes through in the pauses, the moments where things slow down or speed up. That’s what makes the marketing so intense, accompanied by the passion of Waithe and Matsoukas in particular in how they’ve advocated for the movie during the press cycle.