Queen: “He told me nothing scares a white man more than seeing a black man on a horse.”
Queen: “Cause they have to look up at him.”
When a story about an altercation between a black man and a white cop comes to light we are fed a typical narrative. The white man was a hero, doing his duty, had no choice to resort to violence. The black man was resisting, aggressive, had a criminal record. There are key words and facts intentionally used to paint a clear picture.
Queen & Slim feels like a free space away from the media slant and away from how we typically engage with stories like this. A bubble where there is no discussion of guilt or regret. No remarks over the dead cop or how he was a hero or how he had a family or how there are good people on both sides.
Instead we are put there. As a voyeur who gets to see exactly what happens. We get to focus on the black people and their journey. We see two young, intelligent black people get pulled over by a cop. We watch as they comply to the cop’s demands even as they get increasingly nervous. We get to see the misunderstanding that leads to Slim shooting the cop dead. And we feel their anguish as they get in the car to drive away. We yell at the screen telling them there is a better option, that logic is on their side, that they were defending themselves, that surely people will understand the circumstances. And then we realize it’s not that simple, there is no better option as a black person. They know exactly how this is going to end and driving away is their best option.
As a white person viewing this movie I’m grateful it provides a small glimpse into what it means to be a black person in America. Of course I will never be able to fully understand what that means but this film provides hints of unspoken bonds and assumed consequences black people face. There is subtext and nuance to this film that I am aware of but I feel only people of color can fully grasp.
It’s in the way Queen and Slim run without much acknowledgment to their options or lack thereof. It’s the knowing nods of, mostly, approval they receive from black strangers. It’s the lack of surprise when an estranged niece shows up at her Uncle’s house needing a place to hide. It’s all there in character interactions, unspoken, unflinching, unsurprised
These interactions are led by incredible performances from Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya. We of course know to expect this type of performance from Kaluuya thanks to Get Out but his effortless coolness and understated performance plays perfectly to the outstanding Turner-Smith. This is my first exposure to her and it left a hell of an impression as she plays a tough, wildly intelligent, go-getter. Even more impressive is the chemistry the two share as they experience the worst Tinder date of all time.
This film is without a doubt worth your time, especially in 2020. The black experience in modern day America, as far as I can tell, is strongly represented here by Melina Matsoukas in her directorial debut. Of course it’s telling that the best way to express the black experience is through a road trip genre film following the main characters avoiding racial persecution by running away from the police. Truly it’s a more ruthless and honest Bonnie and Clyde where instead of a bored white woman looking for cheap thrills with her amateur criminal boyfriend, it’s two young black people wanting to go home from a fucking Tinder date without being accosted for the color of their skin.