‘Queen and Slim’ a haunting story of black love, identity

Image courtesy Universal Pictures.

9/10 Queen and Slim is highly topical, but so powerful that it rises above its tight ties to its moment in time.

In Queen and Slim, a pair of relative strangers driving home from a Tinder date (Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya) are pulled over and given a hard time by a cop (Sturgill Simpson). The officer opens fire and is killed in the ensuing scuffle. Instantly the subjects of a nationwide manhunt, the pair drives from Ohio to Louisiana and then to Florida, determining that their only hope to make it to Cuba.

The pair appears to be able to communicate telepathically – though it’s never made explicit, in several of their private conversations, their speech is played over shots of the speaking party not speaking, giving the distinct appearance that they are speaking with their minds.

The two are not named, but almost everyone they encounter recognizes them, saying conspicuously, “I know who you are.” The film’s principal tension is wondering whether or when they’ll be caught, but its principal conflict is one to retain their identity as individuals, which their race threatens to swallow, first by getting them killed, then by turning them into symbols. As the film progresses, they both win and lose, both deciding more and more that living free means refusing to live in fear of their imminent deaths, and at the same time, becoming what everyone wants them to be – freedom fighters, the black Bonnie and Clyde, desperados whose very lives are in continuous defiance of the establishment.

As they travel across the old Confederacy, America’s disturbing racial past doesn’t so much come to life as the history behind what’s still here becomes much more obvious. The land itself becomes a lurking menace. Absent their quickly abandoned cell phones or busier interstates, much of their route is indistinguishable from the antebellum South, emphasized by their encounter with a prison-gang of black inmates watched over from a horse by a white guard. The permanent, living horrors of our history that are easily ignored by most become existential threats to our lead characters.

Queen and Slim is highly topical to the recent rise in awareness about police violence toward minorities, but at the same time it’s timeless, almost elemental. Just as it started with a proverbial “driving while black” infraction, the rest of the film is about them falling in love while black. They are explicitly on the run and unable to trust any institution, but as Queen knows and Slim learns – their difference here is the primary tension between them – that was always true. Falling in love is a radical act at the end of the world.

If you’ve got movie friends who don’t get the whole #blacklivesmatter thing, this is the movie to show them. Queen and Slim entrenches itself in the type of atrocity that inspires hashtags, but instead of remaining salacious, focuses on black lives in the act of mattering and the ever-present impediments to that. Through its character structure, the film forces viewers to sympathize and acknowledge the constant danger.

This is the awards season-oriented offering from a recent spate of blaxploitation movies that are specifically meant to exploit the fear of unjustified police shootings which have been heavy in the headlines in recent years. You’re going to be hearing a lot about this in the coming weeks. It’s entirely deserving of that talk, and it’s well worth a viewing.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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