***WARNING MILD TO HEAVY SPOILERS***
Queen & Slim is a romantic thriller drama directed by Melina Matsoukas and written by Lena Waithe. Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith make up the titular couple whose date night goes south when they end up on the run from the law. There was a lot to unpack in this film, so I’m gonna break this up into three parts: The Good, The Bad, & The Ratchet.
This is a beautifully shot film. Right off the bat, the very first scene walks us into the lives of our two characters. They’re on a mission together, so it’s only right that we meet them together. Daniel Kaluuya delivers as Slim, a working-class man who doesn’t really see life outside of his town in Ohio until he meets Queen. He’s very brash and bullheaded in the beginning, as he clearly has a certain preconceived notion on how women should act. However, through the course of the film, we see his rough exterior melt away. We see a black man truly who tries to do good in his life, but unfortunately falls victim to an unjust system that is constantly demonizing him. What we also see is him admitting to being scared and accepting the fact that though he is seen as a stone pillar of the black community, he is indeed vulnerable and needs to be able to express those feelings openly without being judged.
Jodie Turner-Smith brings a quiet ferocity as Queen. Throughout the entire movie, she’s the one that’s always coming up with concrete plans for them to follow. As an attorney fresh out of law school, she is constantly using her training to reassure Slim that each step they make is the right one. She’s intelligent and street smart, and she has a strong bond with her community that motivates her throughout the film. Even though she has a tumultuous relationship with her family, she has a strong moral compass and a dedication to the liberation of her people that drives her. She doesn’t have to stay in the car with Slim, but she chooses to do so to keep Slim safe.
And I have to shout out Indya Moore as Goddess. Their screen time was short, but it warmed my heart to see a black nonbinary trans person given such a poignant part in a mainstream film about the constant struggle for black liberation. Black trans people, especially black trans women are often ignored and/or horribly abused in our society. So to allow Indya’s character to speak, especially about the definition of “king” that has been circulating the internet for the past few years is groundbreaking.
At the core of this story is two black people who just want to be free. Free from persecution, free from society’s expectations, free from fear. I caught glimpses of all of that in Queen & Slim, and I really appreciated it.
Ok, so there were definitely a few things about this movie that rubbed me the wrong way. Let’s start with the scene at the fast food restaurant. The two of them pull up to the parking lot of a fast food joint and ask a young child to buy their food for them because they don’t want to draw attention to themselves. In exchange for buying their food, they offer to let him keep the change, to which the kid snaps that there won’t be much left. The child they ask for help is overweight, which felt like an odd position to put him in. It was almost as if the writers said, “make sure the kid that buys their food is fat, because fat kids are always hungry.”
I felt like this was an unfair use of the child’s size in order to further the plot. Oh, but it doesn’t stop there. A few minutes after the child delivers them the food he comes back and shows them that the video footage of their scuffle with the cop has gone viral and they take off in a hurry. In doing so, they accidentally hit the child’s father, who is also overweight. They decide to drop the man off to the hospital, but not before several jokes are made about their fatness. The father even calls the son fat as they help him into the car. It is common for plus-sized people to be used in films as comic relief, and it was disappointing for a movie that was so progressive in other areas to drop the ball in this aspect.
My main issue with this movie though, is that it sold us a fantasy of two black people circumventing the system that was built to oppress them, but then pulls that fantasy out from under us at the very last minute. We see the two of them stick together until the end of the line. We see them reveal insecurities about themselves to each other and how they overcome them with hope for the future, but at the very end we see that hope extinguished. It really hurt. We don’t need yet another reminder that this white supremacist, heteronormative, patriarchal, society will continue to oppress black people. It would’ve been better to see Queen and Slim cruising through the South without a care in the world, taking down anyone that got in their way, an escape from the hopelessness that plagues black people every day.
I feel like movies like Django and Inglorious Basterds allowed marginalized audiences a certain type of catharsis that they couldn’t achieve in real life (they blow up a house full of white people and empty a machine gun out on Hitler, for God’s sake). I want black people to be able to create stories that explore escapist narratives, because it empowers us to dream further instead of reminding us of what already exists. If you’re gonna bring up Assata Shakur (who is still under asylum in Cuba) don’t pull the rug out from under us.
In the film, Queen and Slim have a brief exchange about the meaning of a “Ride or Die” woman. Slim explains that he wants a woman to be there for him no matter what, no questions asked. Slim’s definition was the end of the conversation. That bothered me. Queen is a professional lawyer; her legal literacy helped get the two of them as far as they were able to go, so I was hoping for more pushback from her on why black men feel like they’re entitled to black women’s loyalty, even when they clearly don’t deserve it. Queen reveals later on that she defended her uncle, even though he killed her mother. She of all people should be more opinionated about the concept of “Ride or Die” considering that she could’ve easily let Slim get arrested and just went on living her life as an attorney. The main black woman in the movie did most of the heavy lifting in this film, and yet, I felt like her voice was the quietest.
I’m very conflicted by Queen & Slim. I love that the two of them grew to love each other deeply during their journey. I loved that they stayed by each other’s side, I loved the imagery of black love. I loved the music choices,. I loved Indya Moore’s performance. However, I grow tired of black people bonding through trauma.
I want more stories of us kicking ass and taking names with no strings attached.
I want less martyrs and more heroes.
Edited by Chichi Amaefuna