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From the moment Daniel Kaluuya laid eyes on the Queen & Slim script, the award-winning actor knew he wanted to help tell a powerful story of police brutality and race.

Kaluuya first met the drama-thriller's writer, Lena Waithe, at an advance screening of his hit 2017 film Get Out. A few months later, Kaluuya and Waithe spoke about her gripping story of a black man, Slim, and black woman, Queen, on a first date who are forced to go on the run after Slim fatally shoots a hostile white police officer in self-defense.

"She told me the story and I was just like, 'This is amazing. Can I read it?'" Kaluuya, 30, recently recalled to the Daily News. "She sent me the first draft. I was like the first person to read it. I read it in an hour. Complete page-turner. I said, 'I want to play Slim.'"

Even Queen & Slim director Melina Matsoukas hadn't read the script at that point. Kaluuya was cast after she did.

In the movie, the mayhem begins when the officer pulls over Slim and Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) in a routine traffic stop on a frigid night in Cleveland.

The tension quickly escalates when the confrontational cop asks to search the car and ultimately pulls his gun on them, leading to a fight that ends with Slim shooting the officer with his own firearm.

"They just got pulled over and Slim is realizing, 'This is out of my control. And the only reason why this is out of my control is because I'm black,'" Kaluuya said. "It's like, 'I can't even deescalate this situation.' It's a very difficult predicament to be in, and you can see that he's just trying to not go there, and then it goes there, and it goes in a way that he didn't expect."

The film premieres amid an ongoing social discussion about police brutality in the real world and focuses entirely on the titular duo's point of view.

"Usually in these narratives, (it's) kind of like, 'Oh, we're gonna track them.' ... They're like, 'Where are they? They're in Arizona.' There was never that," Kaluuya said.

"It's about humanizing the people that are criminalized," he added.

To get a better idea of what his fictional character would be like, Kaluuya says he visited a Costco in Cleveland where Slim might have worked and spoke to employees. On his off days, he went to neighborhoods where Slim could've lived to further understand the role.

Production in Cleveland involved filming during a polar vortex when temperatures dropped well below freezing -- an experience unlike any Kaluuya had gone through for a movie.

Queen & Slim has been compared to Bonnie and Clyde because it features a couple on the run from the law, but Kaluuya sees a key difference.

"The inciting incident within the Bonnie and Clyde film ... would be, like, they robbed a bank. The inciting incident in Queen & Slim is, not that they're black, but how they're perceived because they're black. That's the criminalization," Kaluuya said.

Rather than setting out to commit a crime, Kaluuya says, Queen and Slim were just "trying to go home." He believes his movie's narrative aligns more closely with the 1991 drama Thelma and Louise.

Queen & Slim is the latest film for Kaluuya that has plunged deep into a social discussion. Get Out, for which he earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, garnered critical acclaim as a satire examining race, while last year's Black Panther, in which Kaluuya played the warrior W'Kabi, is the most high-profile film to center on a black superhero.

"I think a premise (for a film) should be, like, 'What?' Like, oh, there's a horror movie about an interracial couple. 'What?'" Kaluuya says, referring to Get Out.

"I know Black Panther was in the Marvel space, but imagine colonization never happened and there's this country that exists away from the world in secret. It's like, 'What?'

"These are big ideas," Kaluuya said, "and I thought Queen & Slim was a big idea."

MovieStyle on 11/29/2019

Print Headline: Daniel Kaluuya talks criminalization and Queen & Slim

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