Black Representation in “Queen & Slim”

You haven’t seen a film quite like Queen & Slim this year. Or any year for that matter. One of the few films of the last decade written and directed by Black women, Queen & Slim is a visually stunning journey and an ode to Black identity and love. 

This is director Melina Matsoukas’ first narrative feature, but she is no stranger to conveying powerful imagery and impressive black representations. After killing a police officer in self-defense, Angela (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Ernest (Daniel Kaluuya) are forced to choose between a life on the run– or confront sentencing at the hands of a racist justice system. Melina Matsoukas and writer Lena Waithe manage to defy Hollywood’s notions of what a leading man and woman can look like. 

Hollywood’s history of colorism has made a pairing like Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya especially rare to see on the big screen. There is a longstanding preference for fairer-skinned African American actors who align more with Eurocentric beauty standards. With the frequent casting of multiracial or lighter-skinned actresses, one film critic argues that “Hollywood is not late [to colourism]. They just don’t care. They associate money and youth with light skin, otherwise they wouldn’t keep doing it.” In terms of feminine beauty, this preference has especially limited the representation of Black women in the media. The casting of Turner-Smith in a love story shouldn’t be seen as revolutionary, but with so few dark-skin women represented as romantic interests, this representation is incredibly powerful with a real-world impact.

Queen & Slim not only refutes Hollywood’s casting bias but it’s beautiful showcasing of darker skin goes against the bias baked into film technology. The Shirley Card established light skin as the baseline in photography and left darker complexions disregarded. While cameras failed to be inclusive, lighting technique managed to do the same. Insecure’s cinematographer Ava Berkofsky states that while in film school “no one ever talked about lighting nonwhite people.” Between the lighting and cinematography in Queen & Slim, Matsoukas creates a cinematic work that actually celebrates the richness of dark skin. 

From Beyonce’s Lemonade to Issa Rae’s Insecure, Melina Matsoukas proves yet again that her stylish perspective and talent for capturing cultural meaning is a force to be reckoned with. 

Take action! Marvel at the beauty that is Queen & Slim and grab your tickets!